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May 1, 2013

Risky Business

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Photo Credit: TrujilloPaumier

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STEFANIE ALCOCER, 38: The Bomb Squad Technician
Los Angeles

Time on the job: Four years

Her motivation: Protecting the city

Dress code: Her bomb suit weighs 80 pounds

"After 13 years with the Los Angeles Police Department on the gang unit and the anti-terrorism and organized crime unit, I beat out 39 other officers for the bomb squad. It's an elite post that requires an intensive year of training. We have a saying: 'In order to beat the bomber, you have to make the bomb.' I built a pipe bomb first; after that, I moved on to an improvised explosive device, or IED, by creating a circuit that led to the explosive, then attaching a timer. Blowing things up gives me an adrenaline bump and always has.

Our squad investigates terrorist threats and meth labs; we dismantle old military weapons; we use explosives to breach doors during hostage situations. Every call is a potential life-threatening event.

Recently, a shipping container with the word bomb spray-painted on the side arrived at the Los Angeles port from China. We called in reinforcements and shut down the port. Wearing our flak jackets and ballistic helmets, the same kind of gear used in The Hurt Locker, my partner and I drilled a hole through the top of the container and directed our bomb-sniffing dog to investigate. When he didn't alert us to anything, we opened the container from a distance with a system of ropes, clamps, and carabiners. We eventually declared it safe. But you never know. One of my first calls was for a copper pipe bomb at UCLA—I rendered that inoperable using a bomb-deactivation robot. If I hadn't, the explosion would have caused serious injury or death.

The majority of calls turn out to be hoaxes, but you can't get complacent. That's how people get hurt." —As told to Whitney Joiner


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