Local law enforcers and emergency first responders are getting an updated education in explosives. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms staged several explosions Wednesday afternoon in Niagara County. Participants will return to the scene Thursday to conduct simulated investigations of each bomb blast.
Several donated vehicles, including a former NFTA bus, were detonated on the grounds of LaFarge Quarry in the Town of Gasport. Federal agents also set off more than a dozen bombs of various sizes and compositions as part of a training program for police officers and emergency first responders.
"It's a group effort," said ATF resident agent-in-charge Steven Dickey, when asked why emergency medical personnel and firefighters were also invited to participate. "It starts with the first responders showing up, to actually see what's going on in that place, so when the other experts do get there, they can have a general idea of what they're looking for and where to start."
On Thursday, the final scheduled day of the program, participants will return to the quarry and attempt to piece together what materials were used to blow up the vehicles. They witnessed a demonstration of various bombs on Wednesday. One of the 15 devices set off created an explosion that shot a flaming tire more than 100 feet into the air.
Although the participants are experienced, the belief is that one simply cannot stop learning.
"We stay on top of whatever the trends are, so that we are ready to meet whatever challenges we might be faced with on any given day," said ATF spokesman Matthew Myerson. "Part of why we're doing this is so we can impart that knowledge and experience to our state and local counterparts, and give those first responders the experience and information they need to do their jobs a little better."
The first explosion came without warning to class participants. The purpose of that surprise blast was to remind them to stay alert. U.S. Attorney William Hochul, who was among those observing the demonstrations, said this applies to first responders as well.
"First responders, in today's day and age, have to be concerned about secondary explosive devices," Hochul said.