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Bomb technicians: Trench workers against terrorism

Ever since two airplanes toppled the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, New York on Sept. 11, 2001, the Bremerton Police Department has prepared for the worst — another attack on home soil.

Many times each year, local cops risk their lives as patrol officers, SWAT team members and bomb experts to keep the public safe.

Officer Matt Mattson is the lead bomb technician for the Bremerton Police Department.

He has gotten used to the sound of things going “boom.”

Even though he wears a thick Kevlar suit while detonating suspicious packages, he has no protection for his hands.

Does he worry about losing them in a blast? Of course.

“You always think about that,” he said. “You run a risk and you have to accept it. That is what makes you treat every call as a real call. You check on empty boxes, suitcases and backpacks with books on them, but the next one you pull on could be the real one.”

Mattson is a member of the six-person Washington State Bomb squad, and last year responded to many of the 100 calls for service.

Recently the Department of Emergency Management of Kitsap County purchased three new bomb suits made of the highly dense material.

Mattson dressed up in one of the new 80-pound suits for the first time on Monday.

Mattson, who once operated a demolition business with his wife back on the East Coast, is giving a course in the next two months to the Bremerton Police Department about booby traps and explosive devices.

Mattson has made dangerous circumstances a part of his daily life for years.

He drives his police cruiser home every night because, as a member of the department’s SWAT team, he is on call 24 hours a day.

“When I met him he was in special forces in the Army,” said his wife Connie. “I just get used to the tension. You learn to deal with it.”

Besides the fact that Bremerton is squashed between the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Silverdale’s Subase Bangor, two possible terrorist targets, Bremerton Police Chief Rob Forbes has outlined numerous other locations in the city that receive extra patrols every time national terror alerts are raised.

The national Department of Homeland Security, created after Sept. 11, has designed a five-color code system that radio, television and newspaper’s can flash to warn citizens about chances of terrorism.

l Red: severe risk of attack

l Orange: high risk

l Yellow: significant risk

l Blue: general risk

l Green: low risk of attack

“When we go to orange we engage more aggressive patrols,” Forbes said. “It has caused us to look not just locally by regionally and globally when it comes to the threat of bioterrorism. We’ve really never had to do that.”

When the police department receives a threat they patrol Bremerton’s unfiltered Watershed area where the city derives its drinking water.

Additionally, the police survey the fenceline of the shipyard, power substations and places where a large volume of people congregate, such as churches and malls.

Since Sept. 11, the bomb squad has been called out three or four times monthly to investigate suspicious devices, according to Bremerton’s Crime Prevention Officer Karen Pierson.

“You try to do whatever you can to stay one step above (of the criminals),” she said.

The bomb technicians pay attention to what devices or chemicals are stolen in town or nationally.

The problem is anyone can become a bomb maker.

“There are millions of Web sites where all this stuff is open to the public,” Mattson said.

Sometimes his job puts his life in perspective.

“Sometimes you have to turn ferries back to Seattle, or block off traffic,” he said. “The public gets mad at you, but you are dealing with whether you go home at night.”

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