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Odd Jobs: Bomb technician - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: Bomb technician

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JERICHO, Vt. -

Bombs: They're somewhat simple to make, don't require much sophistication and can be absolutely devastating.

The big booms were center stage in Jericho. The Ethan Allen firing range is where the FBI is running its weeklong Post-Blast Investigators' School for first responders.

"Mostly the focus is how to gather evidence, such that we can find out who did it and prove it in court," said Supervisory Special Agent Steve Lazarus, an FBI bomb technician.

Neutralizing explosive devices is part of Lazarus' job. He's a bomb technician with the FBI, but his career didn't start that way.

"The first 10 years or so in the FBI was working criminal cases. I was chasing drug dealers and bank robbers, like all my friends," said Lazarus.

The novelty of simply nabbing bad guys wore off. So he signed up for the Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. It's the nation's only academy for bomb technicians.

"Turns out to have been the very best thing I did since I've been in the FBI," said Lazarus.

The FBI has 12,500 special agents. Fewer than 200 of them become bomb techs.

"I think by now you've probably gotten the fact that every explosive is boiled down to its most basic nature: an oxidizer and a fuel," said Lazarus.

One month after Lazarus was promoted to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Quantico, Virigina, he's back in Vermont, teaching local, state and federal authorities about different kinds of explosives, from Molotov cocktails, to flaming tires and letter bombs stored in office filing cabinets.

"What the students are here to do is not just see things blow up. That is entertaining, of course, but right now they're receiving instruction on high versus low explosives. They're receiving instructions on the effects of a blast explosion, the pressure, the heat, the fragmentation," said Lazarus.

"Should there be a call we get activated and respond," said Sgt. Paul Ravelin, a bomb technician with the Vermont State Police.

Ravelin is part of a nine-member team-- the only bomb squad in the Green Mountains. The team gets called about 50 times a year for things like dignitary protection, large events and investigations into meth labs, suspicious packages and explosives.

They take each call seriously, never knowing if the explosive is real or a false alarm. Like in 2012, when Ravelin and the team responded to the immigration facility in St. Albans for a FedEx package containing wire and metal. It could have been a bomb. A special retrieval robot was sent in. Turns out the culprit was a musical birthday card mailed to an employee.

"I was actually driving the robot out of the building with the card," said Ravelin.

Today, Ravelin is one of about three dozen law enforcement and military officials from around the region to improve their bomb detection skills.

"It's not the danger aspect, it's not living on the edge all the time, what you see in Hollywood. Really it's the technical part of it that drew me to it," said Ravelin.

"As a bomb technician in the FBI you get to do and see things that you otherwise would not get to do or see," said Lazarus.

Lazarus' job has taken him around the globe to deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, to Super Bowls here at home and to tragedies that devastated the nation.

He can't discuss the details of the Boston bombings; it's still a pending investigation. But he can teach his students about the devices authorities believe the suspects used.

"The Boston devices were some form of a pyrotechnic powder that was harvested from pyrotechnics and in the IED," said Lazarus.

Or Improvised Explosive Device. It's a homemade bomb, something Lazarus is seeing more of these days.

"Bombings are becoming more prevalent. It used to be a very rare thing. Now with the advent of technology and the Internet, everybody's got access to bomb making instructions," said Lazarus.

And the ingredients are easy to get, with dangerous blasts built from ice packs, toilet paper and Tannerites. Now it's up to these men and women to keep civilians safe.

"We want the public to have a sense of confidence in their law enforcement and fire, EMT and first responders that they're trained that they're motivated to handle this sort of thing," said Lazarus.

An odd job reserved for some of America's bravest.

The last time someone was killed in Vermont by a bomb was 1998. It was mailed to a man in Fairhaven, killing him and seriously injuring his mother.

Salaries range for FBI bomb techs between $45,000 and nearly $130,000 a year.

If you know someone who has an odd job and may want to be featured on our series, email us at news@wcax.com.

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