In this episode of Yinzer Backstage Pass, we meet the folks who run the Pittsburgh Bomb Squad.
My contact at the city directed us to go to a former fire station in the Hill District. I pushed the buzzer and seconds later a garage door opened to reveal Sergeant Robert DiGiacomo. He invited us into the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Bomb Squad.
It’s been a busy few weeks for the bomb squad with recent election-time visits from both President Biden and former President Obama. Sgt. DiGiacomo — or Bob, as he instructed me to call him — explained that one of the Bomb Squad’s main duties is to sweep areas before dignitaries or other VIPs arrive. They’ll walk the entire space before the event with a team of bomb-sniffing dogs and look into anything that the dogs (or humans) think is suspicious. They also stay onsite throughout the event — though he says that most people wouldn’t even know they were there, and that’s the way he likes it.
The other main duty of the Bomb Squad is to respond to calls reporting suspicious packages or objects. When they get a call like this, Bob or one of his teammates will head out with the appropriate equipment, which might include an X-ray machine, a remote-controlled robot or a giant steel orb that can be used to detonate explosives. In most cases, the suspicious item just turns out to be a bag that someone accidentally left behind.
Thankfully, the Pittsburgh Bomb Squad doesn’t have to detonate many bombs in the real world. To keep their skills sharp, they practice disarming bombs at their monthly training sessions.
During our conversation, I noticed a tall shelf of grenades, cannon balls and small rockets. Bob explained that when veterans pass away, their families will sometimes discover a wartime souvenir in an attic and call the Bomb Squad to see whether it’s still explosive. Many of those souvenirs have ended up on Bob’s shelf — and he assures me that they’re all safe to handle.