NYPD Bomb Squad stenciled on two massive garage doors compelled passersby to stop and stare at the command center of the most formidable police unit in the City of New York. These are the men who go where the rest of NYPD cannot, where danger is routine and courage a requirement.
Inside, two trucks with Bomb Squad written in bold letters stood big as railroad cars, squeezed inches from cinderblock walls. We actually have three of these trucks that are total containment vessels we use to transport dangerous explosives, Mike told us. We drive these trucks through midtown traffic, and you would think drivers would stay back, but instead they tailgate, hoping to breeze through parting traffic.
Mike, as commanding as his job title, invited us into the cavernous space for a demonstration of the equipment that resembled astronaut suits from out of space. He called us “Mam,” and effortlessly lifted from the truck a hundred-pound canvas bag containing the latest in technological warfare.
Thank you for taking the time, I said to Mike. He smiled a sad smile. “I look at your husband’s picture on the wall every day.” That picture is forty years old, and still invokes respect; one of their own lost to an explosion before bomb suits and Wolverine robots could keep them safe. We have double the number of experts on the squad today than in the 1970s.
We were there to take photos under the P.O. Brian Murray Way street sign, on the corner of Charles and Bleecker, steps from bomb squad headquarters. It was a side-trip from the Book Expo event that brought to New York Laura and Sandra, my agents, and publishers Dayna and Kayla. A banner on the wall from Huntsville Alabama Arsenal, Sandra’s hometown, was like a welcome mat.
I think we all fell in love with Mike that day, so amiable and personable. He asked if one of us would like to try on the bomb suit. Laura, once a combat nurse in the Air Force, stepped right up and donned the 80-pound jacket, and then wobbled a bit when Mike placed on her head the 20-pound helmet, like the one scuba-divers wear. The suit that cost $25,000, and can withstand the pressure of a dynamite blast, is now standard issue. It was something that would have protected Brian, if it was available when a terrorist bomb exploded, killing him and injuring two members of the squad. These suits have protected members of the bomb squad, with not a single fatality since they were acquired, Mike said.
Mike showed us his tool kit, an assortment of disposal paraphernalia, and asked about Brian’s. I said that Brian kept his in a black ditty bag left over from his Air Force days. Over the six years he was on the squad, I told Mike, he collected a bunch of screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers of various sizes, a magnifying glass and a flashlight. For his twenty-seventh birthday, I bought him a surgical steel pocketknife that he never got to use. He kept the kit in his desk draw. Mike nodded. We have robots now that can deactivate a bomb. There are many new techniques that make the job less dangerous.
Climb into the truck, he offered, and again it was Laura who stepped into a compartment with enough instruments to fly a plane. We have underwater diving equipment, Mike told us. We’re certified divers.
Many of our calls today are from family members of veterans who brought home souvenirs like hand grenades and bullets, Mike said. And when we go out on calls, we take one of our sixteen explosive-detection canines. They wear cameras, which give us an inside view of suspicious areas.
It was time to go, but I was reluctant to leave. There was something about the nostalgia of that visit that surrendered to the years of regret at being a police widow. I had just witnessed the evolution of the bomb squad.