Riverside County Sheriff hazardous device team remains on call 24 hours a day

A Riverside County sheriff’s deputy and member of the hazardous device team monitors an explosive detection robot tethered with a fiber optic cable searching for a suspected explosive device during a training exercise at the Menifee Impact Church. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

If an unexploded or suspicious explosive device is found anywhere in Riverside County, one of eight highly trained sheriff’s deputies, day or night, can climb into their unmarked truck parked at home nearest the location and be at the scene, hopefully in minutes.

They are the members of the Riverside County hazardous device team. Each team member has his own white truck that is fully equipped with search robots, a monitoring screen, laptops, hazardous device protective suits and other gear especially designed to detect and if necessary, explode suspicious ordinance or known explosives.

Working closely with the team is the U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Teams, the Riverside County hazardous device team can identify thousands of different kinds of explosive ordinance from bombs to improvised explosive devices, chemicals, TNT or dynamite.

Bomb tech Robert Anderson and Sgt. Bob Epps of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department show off the “Talon,” an explosive device detection robot during training exercises at Menifee’s Impact Church Thursday, July 30. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Training is continuous for the team members. One such session was conducted at Menifee’s Impact Church on Menifee’s Hub Court Thursday, July 30, as team members learned more about their special bomb detection equipment and practicing their use.

Sgt. Bob Epps, the team’s squad leader, said, “We are out here today with the March Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. They have a library of military ordnance that we rely on. We work with them in ordinance training. We all have the same techniques and protocols they have, so we practice together and keep our relationship good. We’re not strangers.”

One of the March Air Reserve Base team members goes to the Menifee church and received permission for the teams to train at the location, Epps said.

He showed three of the team’s robots each with its own detection abilities appropriately named the “Talon,” the “PAC DOT” and the larger “F6” robot made by Remotec.

“Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses,” Epps said. “There is no perfect robot, so one may be fast and agile, but it may not be able to do any heavy lifting and the ones that do the heavy lifting are not very fast or agile.”

He said a lot of times the teams may use multiple robots in operations because of the different strengths each one offers. He said there were several other robots the teams may rely on, but they were not available for the day’s training.

The teams used different robots, one with a 300-foot fiber optic tether and others remotely. The robots were monitored on laptops or inside on a special monitor inside of the truck in use. They could be maneuvered through dark areas and up the stairs, moving around to manipulate obstacles in a house or a commercial building. During the morning training session, a tethered robot was in use as a team member in one of the trucks carefully watched on a monitor as it moved through the church.

An unmarked truck, like this one and others, is used by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s hazardous device team, which is often called the “Bomb Squad.” They are on call 24-hours a day and are kept at team member’s homes when not in use. Each carries their own explosive device detection robots and other necessary equipment used for bomb and explosive device detection and destruction. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Epps said they respond to 250 to 300 calls a year. At that moment, he said one of the team was checking on a suspected grenade call. He said recently the team removed some improvised explosive fireworks. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department team also helps operations with teams from other jurisdictions. It is the only team in the county, outside of Riverside Police Department who have their own explosive device team.

“We keep pretty busy,” Epps said. “We go wherever we are needed.”

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.