Editor note: identities protected for security reasons.
It’s not all about cutting the red wire… Our Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team has given a rare glimpse into how they perform their job and contribute in keeping the country safe. They explain why they chose one of the riskiest trades in the Defence Force to work in.
A man is decluttering his late father’s property and comes across dynamite that had been bought years earlier for use on the farm. The EOD team is brought in and they discover the explosives had degraded and leeched highly volatile nitroglycerin. There was no other option to get rid of the unstable element but to blow up the entire shed.
That incident was just one of thousands the EOD unit has responded to since its inception in 2007. As well as removing items such as old war memorabilia and marine markers that wash up on beaches, they also assist police to ensure large public events are safe, and explosive weapons to be used in a crime are rendered safe and evidence is preserved.
“New Zealand is a relatively safe place and things like old explosives bought for farming is probably one of the most dangerous things we deal with,” Operator One* said.
He joined the unit five years ago because he wanted a job that gave him a “higher sense of purpose”.
The trade is open to members of the public to join as well as any service member from the three services who want to trade change. All new recruits have to undergo a week of psychometric testing before they are accepted into the unit.
“You don’t have to be a scholar. They’re looking for people who are calm, intelligent have the capacity to learn and want to be part of an empowered team expected to solve problems, Operator One said.
“It’s not like the movies where people working with explosives like to live on the edge, you need to be agile, innovative and precise in your approach to things. It’s not the Hurt Locker.”
The team is constantly evolving in order to deal with the most dangerous of situations so they can operate in volatile theatres in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Remnants left from World War II still litter countries including Solomon Islands and Bougainville.
Operator Two said the EOD unit also regularly visits those places to clear away the potentially explosive debris, which limits the residents’ ability to clear land for cultivation.
“The deployments are also a really good opportunity for our people to train in a safe environment with real-life ordnance — they prepare us for the higher threat missions.
“The most rewarding aspect of the job is that no matter how significant or small the task is that we’re deploying to, it’s still making a difference to someone, so that’s pretty cool.”
Operator Two’s wider family were a “bit nervous” about his chosen profession, but his wife was “fairly comfortable”. “She knows the military pretty well and she knows the training we do, so she’s supportive.”
When he is called on to go to an EOD task, Operator Two said initial information about the situation could be limited.
“So there’s a little bit of trepidation usually. But when we arrive we’re trained to do a recce of the site and make a plan to dispose of the item. It’s very procedural for us and we have access to high quality intelligence and advice if needed so we’re safe throughout.”
Special Operations Component Commander Colonel Rian McKinstry said he was proud of the team, which is on call 24/7 and get the job done with minimal fuss and with the utmost professionalism.
He urged any member of the public who came across any device that could be explosive to stay away from it and call police immediately.
“They will know what to do, they will contact us and we will respond,” he said.
“You’ve got to have the right demeanour and intelligence for the work. The people here are professional, focused, well-trained and they get the job done effectively and efficiently.”
By the Numbers:
- 122 callouts for 2018
- 112 callouts this year to date, due in part to heightened public awareness following the March 15 Mosque attacks
- 28 tasks were responded to in the three weeks following the shootings