Fire district bomb squad loses its certification

Thursday, April 17, 2008 | 9:31 p.m. CDT; updated 2:53 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The FBI has suspended its certification of the Boone County Fire Protection District’s bomb squad, effectively grounding the squad from responding to potentially explosive devices.

The FBI, in its April 9 notice, said the fire district did not meet the minimum requirements of certification. Kansas City FBI spokesman Bob Herden said the fire district will be “given every opportunity to be recertified.” But two members of the bomb squad don’t qualify to attend the FBI’s required Hazardous Device School.

How FBI Bomb Squad Certification Works

Requirements for FBI certification:

— Standards for certification are set by the FBI Bomb Squad Accreditation Program for a bomb squad to be certified by the National Bomb Squad Commander Advisory Board. The advisory board, though not a part of the FBI, is a 12-member elected panel of FBI accredited bomb squad commanders from around the country. — The FBI acts as inspectors to verify the board’s standards are met. — The program must accredit at least two people on the squad. — Minimum equipment standards must also be met.

Requirements to be an FBI accredited bomb squad technician:

— The accreditation training can only occur at the Hazardous Device School at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. — Initial training takes six weeks, and continued accreditation requires an additional week of training every three years. — Requirements to attend the school: — Salaried, full-time employee of public safety agency — Sworn employee of a law enforcement agency, having either national or state legal power to make arrests. In the state of Missouri, this certification requires 680 hours of training. — Have plans to remain at least five years at their current law enforcement or public safety agency. — Pass a physical exam Outside Links:

The decision leaves the fire district with what Fire District Board Chairman John Gordon estimated as several hundred thousand dollars worth of bomb-detecting and defusing equipment and no one certified to use it. In the meantime, the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s unit will be called upon to handle calls in Boone County. A busy year for either the city or county squad is about 10 calls, though most are not bombs.

Gordon confirmed that the fire district is in preliminary talks with the city of Columbia about sending its two bomb squad people to the FBI school. The goal, Gordon said, is “to establish a working agreement and send one or both of their present technicians who are Canadian certified to the school in Alabama,” Gordon said.

Gordon and board member Shelly Dometrorch confirmed that the board, Fire Chief Steve Paulsell and possibly other staff members were meeting Friday with the FBI to discuss the bomb squad certification suspension and other issues. Gordon said, “It could be about a number of topics with the FBI.”

The fire district has been the subject of an FBI investigation since at least 2006. The FBI does not disclose the subject of its investigations.

The district’s bomb squad came into being in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, funded by Homeland Security. In November 2002, the fire district was determined to have met FBI requirements and received certification.

The problems for the fire district’s bomb squad began when Ken Hines, assistant chief in charge of the bomb squad, left the fire district on July 16 last year. Hines has not been back at the fire district since being called to active duty for the Coast Guard in November 2004.

When the FBI came for a routine re-assessment of the squad in December, Gordon said, the FBI was concerned bomb squad technician Carl Giacchi might live too far away to respond to an incident. Giacchi has been attending college outside of the Columbia area.

Some time after that visit, the FBI became aware of another problem. The box checked on the application for recertification in December for both Giacchi and tech Kirk Hankins indicated they were full-time when both are actually volunteer. Giacchi also did not have the law enforcement credentials required by the FBI’s school.

Both men had gone to the training at the FBI’s school and were then certified, but their applications contained false information. Neither man would have been eligible to attend the FBI’s school to be recertified. Without two accredited techs, the FBI suspended the certification.

“If you compare it (Hankins’ application) to the same application from five to six years ago, it was marked the same way,” Gordon said. “I don’t know who marked the boxes. We (the board members) are not able to determine who did it.”

“That is a large part of the frustration, and I am hoping we will find out a lot more at the meeting (with the FBI),” Dometrorch said.

No member of the fire district’s paid staff is law enforcement certified, meaning it would be October if the training began today before anyone would be eligible to apply to the FBI’s school. The waiting list for the FBI’s school could be two years long.

“I feel we can’t afford to take someone out of their job for six months,” Gordon said. “We could hire someone who is already certified to the staff, but I think the money could be better spent not hiring an additional person for this purpose. We have all of our positions filled.”

The candidate to become FBI accredited does not have to be an employee of the fire district itself. The one remaining certified technician on the fire district squad is Chris Groves, a staff member of the MU Police Department. He received his accreditation from the FBI school in November 2002 and is a member of the fire district bomb squad through a “memorandum of understanding” between the university and fire district, Gordon said.

Columbia’s two-person team includes one police officer and one firefighter. Both men are already law enforcement certified so they would not be required to take 680 additional hours. Both men have completed a five-week training course in 2005 at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police College in Ottawa, Canada. The FBI and the Canadian training program are similar, but the Canadian program does not comply with FBI certification requirements. Either man would need to train at the FBI school for six weeks to become accredited.

Columbia Fire Chief Bill Markgraf and Battalion Chief James Weaver, member of Columbia’s bomb squad, were unwilling to discuss the topic. “At this time we are waiting to see what the needs are going to be,” Weaver said.

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