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ATF hosts training session on dealing with explosive devices

Police and fire officials watched as agents with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms blew up objects including a Ford Thunderbird,

Police and fire officials watched as agents with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms blew up objects including a Ford Thunderbird,

July 30, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

INWOOD, W.Va. - Timothy McVeigh used 4,800 pounds of explosives to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City more than seven years ago.

One pound of the same material was enough to blow an old Ford Thunderbird to pieces at the Inwood Quarry Monday afternoon.

About 30 police and fire officials from the seven counties in the Eastern Panhandle watched as agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms blew up the car. It was the first day of a weeklong course offered by the agency.

After sitting through a class at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn Monday morning, the men and woman were bused to the still-operational quarry, where hundreds of feet of yellow wire was connected to a can, plywood, a tire and other objects.

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Later this week, the officers will be split into teams of four, and each team will be given a car that has been destroyed by ATF agents. The officers will have to determine where the bomb was in the car, what type of material was used and collect evidence.

Such experience is invaluable, said Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. David Brining.

"The hands-on training is usually the highest quality training you can get," Brining said. He said he has taken courses on explosives before, and is using this one to further his education.

"It's one area that's constantly changing," he said.

Even though explosives in the past here basically consisted of pipe bombs, Brining and others said a serious explosion could occur. Officers must be prepared, they agreed.

At the quarry, heavy machinery churned and rumbled in the background as the officers gathered for the hourlong explosives demonstration. Underneath a scorching sun and on top of a barren gravel landscape, ATF explosives specialist Richard Summerfield explained to the officers what type of explosion was about to happen.

"Look at the smoke column, watch for the flash," he advised. "Listen to the difference in the sound."

The agents saved the gray Thunderbird - donated from an area salvage yard - for last.

Murmurs ran through the crowd when, just before hitting the detonator, Summerfield advised those watching from 600 feet away to duck if they heard a "whirring" sound after the explosion. No stray parts came flying.

Afterward, the officers walked to the car to get a closer look.

"Where'd that hood go flying?" one asked. Another commented, "That's a smell you could love," referring to a tire that had been blown up a few minutes earlier and smoldered nearby.

At the car, pieces of foam, glass, metal and plastic littered the ground. Officers peered into the car as Summerfield explained how they can figure out where the bomb was placed.

"This is training," he said. "This is not a test."

Officers will focus on classroom work today and Wednesday before heading out to the quarry Thursday for their investigations.

They will present their findings Friday before the group, said Mark R. Swartswelder, resident agent in charge of the ATF's Wheeling, W.Va., office.

Such a class has not been held in Martinsburg for six or seven years, he said. Last year it was held in Fairmont, W.Va.

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