Bomb squad experts with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office held a media event Tuesday that began with a whimper and ended with a bang.
The star attractions were a bomb-sniffing dog named Dreyfus whose reward was a tennis ball and a robot capable of disabling explosives.
First on the agenda was Dreyfus, a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever who was able to sniff out a hidden explosive in seconds.
His handler, Deputy Brad Kirby, said Dreyfus is indispensable to the Sheriff’s Office.
Dreyfus’ nose is highly trained to detect dozens of ingredients that could be used to make a bomb.
He’s also able to find firearms, which helped deputies make an arrest last summer when a house break-in suspect tossed a pistol from a car on Old Oxford Road and fled. But Dreyfus saved the day by finding the gun in some high grass. His work led to the suspect’s arrest.
“He really takes the work of several deputies,” Kirby said. “If several deputies were to walk through a place looking for something suspicious, we’re never going to be able to see every single thing. But Dreyfus covers a lot of ground.”
Dreyfus has been called to multiple bomb threats – most recently, three at Duke University’s Bryan Center and one at Duke Manor Apartments on LaSalle Street. No bomb was found.
In addition to Dreyfus, the bomb squad has two remotely operated, wireless robots that can examine and destroy suspicious packages.
The most recent addition is the F6 – the same model used to find the accused Boston Marathon bomber. It cost $176,000, which was paid for with Homeland Security funds.
Compared to the squad’s older model, the F6 is superior, with more cameras and armament.
The robot took center stage during a simulated search-and-destroy mission on Tuesday. Guided by a deputy inside the sheriff’s bomb squad truck, the wireless robot moved gingerly across a parking lot, slowly approaching a suspicious metal tool box that someone had left.
The robot’s cameras allowed the operator to guide it to the box, take aim at the hinge and blow it to pieces with one shot.
The thud was deafening, and the box’s contents flew all over the lot.
“Great job,” said Lt. Tony Prignano, the bomb squad’s commander. “That was fantastic.”
Prignano said the purpose of Tuesday’s demonstration was to let citizens know that the bomb squad stands ready to respond to reports of suspicious packages in Durham and surrounding counties.
“We want citizens to know that we’re here if you need us,” he said.
He said that since the Boston Marathon bombings, the squad has fielded more calls, and he’s always willing to respond.
Prignano said the squad is often behind the scenes at large events, ready to act.
“You may not see us when there’s a large gathering, but we’re probably there,” Prignano said.
“This should give citizens more peace of mind,” he said, “but don’t reduce your awareness. Always have that awareness level, wherever you are.”