A man had entered First Bank of Georgia on Furys Ferry Road on June 28 and handed the teller a note that said he had a bomb and wanted money. The teller handed the man cash and he left, leaving the device on the teller’s counter. The bank contacted the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, which quickly contacted the bomb squad.
“It’s like, hey, we got a bomb call, let’s go,” bomb squad member and Richmond County sheriff’s Investigator Charles Mulherin said.
Once on scene, the team “rendered the device safe,” Mulherin said, refusing to disclose any procedural details, which he said was protocol. Deputies arrested Ted Howard Screws Jr., a neighbor of Chad Wells, who in January of 2009 was discovered making homemade bombs at his residence on the 300 block of Sally Drive in Martinez after he blew off at least one of his fingers.
The bank bomb was later determined to be fake, but Mulherin and his team have to treat every call the same because they never know when it will be real.
Becoming a member of the squad isn’t easy.
Every potential bomb squad officer goes through an intense tryout where they are tested physically and mentally. The bomb suit alone weighs 80 pounds. During the last round of testing, about 15 officers competed. Two were chosen to assist the bomb unit as apprentices until a spot at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., opens, which can take around a year. The class takes six weeks and consists of at least 12 written and 12 practical exams.
Mulherin said part of the school, from which he graduated in 2008, consists of a mock town where candidates respond to bomb calls at stores, churches and homes.
Along with Mulherin, the squad consists of a narcotics officer, a housing deputy and a supervisor, Cpl. Chad Cheek. Out of more than 300 Richmond County Sheriff’s personnel, only these four officers are tasked with making sure bombs in 16 surrounding counties do not detonate.
The Richmond County Bomb Squad also has two K-9 units, which are used in various situations, including to sweep for bombs before football games or when dignitaries come to town.
One incident, which is pretty common, he said, is when veterans die and old grenades or other explosives are found in their homes. Or occasionally someone starts digging around their yard for some reason and ends up finding buried devices.
Mulherin also said the squad works closely with Fort Gordon.
The technology required for the bomb squad is not cheap, Mulherin said. Everything is originally bought by the FBI or Homeland Security.
“The equipment is expensive, but unreal,” Mulherin said.
They currently have two robots and multiple vehicles which are fitted to respond to bomb calls. X-ray machines and bomb suits are all required for the squad to function.
“Everyone is a type-A personality,” Mulherin said of bomb squad members. “Every call, everyone wants to be the guy in the suit.”