Behind the Scenes With NYC Bomb Squad

March 6, 2007 — -- In "Bomb Squad: A Year Inside the Nation's Most Exclusive Police Unit," ABC News' Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein go behind the scenes of the New York City Police Department's bomb squad.

They checked suspicious briefcases and handled the potential dangers of large crowds in Times Square during New Year's celebrations.

ABC News reporter and producer Esposito has won a George Polk Award for television reporting and two Associated Press Awards and shares a Pulitzer Prize. For the last 10 years, Gerstein has been a producer for "Nightline."

The following is an excerpt of the book.

From Book One Chapter Four:


1 POLICE PLAZA, DECEMBER 31, 1982, 9:30 P.M.

Tony Senft had been on the Bomb Squad for just about two years, and a cop for just about seven, when the call from Police Headquarters came in to the squad room at 9:30 P.M. on New Year's Eve 1982. He answered it, and a chain of events began that altered his molecules and his brain waves, and cost him his eyesight and his dexterity.

"I lost my right eye. I was broken here and here." He pointed to his face as he spoke. "I've had face ... facial work done; I've had new eardrums put in. They cut your ears down and skin graft new eardrums in. My right hip was broken. My whole face was reconstructed. I'm a little scarred up. I suffer a severe case of vertigo and a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I crouched over, and that was the end of it. All I remember is a loud explosion. According to witnesses, I was blown fifteen feet off the ground."

Senft's call to action had come on crisp, fatally dark New York night. For a little over a decade the city had been the target of a set of sustained bombing campaigns by groups including antiwar extremists, black nationalists, right-wing anti-Castro groups, right-wing Zionists of the Jewish Defense League, foreign nationalist factions from Croatia, Puerto Rican separatists, and countless other groups with a grudge and access to explosives.

Determined to stand out -- and succeeding -- were the practiced bombers of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña -- the FALN. Their bombs were reliable and they were very often deadly. With each attack came their clear and simple message -- the Armed Forces of the Puerto Rican Nation wanted a Puerto Rico free from American "colonial oppression."

At 9:27 P.M. on New Year's Eve, the FALN had struck again. A bomb had exploded at FBI Headquarters. Within three minutes the Bomb Squad rookie Senft had taken the call from Headquarters, and he and his senior partner, Richie Pastorella, were rolling. They pulled up short in their blue and white Bomb Squad station wagon. Their headlights revealed that several of the forty-one stories of the glass facade of 26 Federal had curtained down in a crystal rain onto the fortunately empty streets.

"Obviously we saw devastation," Senft recalled. "There were several stories of glass on the ground. There were Emergency Service Squad people there. There were fire engines.

"About fifteen minutes later a second device ... a ... second explosion. That was at Police Headquarters. We found a uniformed man down on the ground. His leg was blown off. He was ripped up like someone took a box cutter and shredded his face. We really didn't even know he was a uniformed man until we found his weapon, that's how badly he was injured."

Within the next five minutes, a third device exploded. This one shook the foundation of the Federal Courthouse in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, directly across the East River from Police Headquarters and the Manhattan office of the FBI.

An Emergency Service officer had come over. "'We think we have a little package on the side of the building. We want you to check it,'" Senft recalled him saying.

When Senft arrived at the U.S. Attorney's Office, they found the two bombs resting against columns about thirty or forty feet apart. The bombs were concealed in shoe box-sized bundles wrapped in newspaper.

"I looked into the package. There were four sticks of dynamite, a slew of wires, a pocket watch, and apparently there was a blasting cap, which I didn't see at the time.

"We put a bomb blanket over it. Went to the other package. Same thing. We had two packages working at the same time, approximately eight sticks of dynamite. Twenty feet. We were wearing fire-retardant jumpsuits that said 'BOMB SQUAD' on the back. We went and we put our bomb suits on."

Senft and Pastorella did not, however, put on the heavy Kevlar hooded helmets. "We made a critical decision that night not to put on the helmets. We felt the helmets were inferior. They would fog up. We had a cream but that didn't work. We felt it would be more dangerous to have the helmets on than to not have the helmets on."

"And we went to the one package. My partner knelt down. I crouched over, and that was the end of it. All I remember is a loud explosion. According to witnesses, I was blown fifteen feet in the air. He was blown back. We were both on fire."

From Book Two Chapter One

Who Are These Guys?


JANUARY 1, 2004


BOMB SQUAD JOB #001, 2004


Listening to the excited radio traffic, Kenny Dean and Paulie Perricone had heard enough. The two young techs had just finished up a security sweep. They notified Bomb Squad Base, tossed their gear back into their response truck, pointed it east, and headed out to Whitestone, Queens, under lights and siren. It appeared someone had rigged a homemade bomb to the undercarriage of a man's car. The new year had begun.

"We had done a marathon; worked the overnight on New Year's Eve into New Year's Day; started at three P.M., worked until seven A.M., and then began a day tour. The job came in at five minutes to two, just before we were scheduled to go off," said Perricone afterward. He and Dean, along with seven other newcomers, had joined the squad in February 2002. It had been a massive influx of new blood for such a small unit; a unit that had had less than 225 members in its first one hundred years. They had been rushed into place to bolster a squad depleted by a wave of post-9/11 retirements. "We were brand-new. On the way there I called my buddy working on Emergency Service that day, and he says to me, 'Paulie, you know that I open everything and I'm the last guy to call the Bomb Squad unnecessarily, but if I had to guess what a mercury switch looked like ... this would be it.' So we had a bit of pucker action on the way there.

"This was the first time. We were a little nervous, but Kenny and I were a little excited to have a real bomb. We shot over quick; I suited up Kenny quick?and I wanted to have at least a picture in our hands before anybody showed up. Kenny went down and took an X ray, and you could see a mercury switch, a battery, you could see what looked like a load. The can was packed.

"It was just as we were peeling open the X ray that Sergeant Walsh arrived. I peeled it open and we were all 'Oh, shit, look at that.'"

The suspicious package was a Red Bull energy beverage can. The X ray showed it was packed with match heads and attached to the car's gas line. Starting the car was supposed to trigger the switch and complete the circuit that ignited the match heads?a crude incendiary device designed to set fire to the car's fuel supply. ?.

From Book Eight Chapter 4

"I look out and see papers flying. And there were people that were going to work and now they're running out. People are running up Exchange Place. They're running down Broadway." By the time Detective Brian Hearn dialed the squad again, Detective Kevin Barry and Detective Mike Oldmixon were already at the intersection of Church and Vesey Streets, on the edge of the sixteen-acre World Trade Center complex.

"All you see is shoes. All up and down the street, shoes, just empty shoes. Empty shoes," Oldmixon recalled. Parts of the planes were coming down around them. A turbine blade struck the response truck. An engine block landed a few feet from Kevin Barry. They were standing near that engine block, Hearn remembers, when Det. Claude "Danny" Richards found them.

"We're going to go in and get the people outside," Barry said.

"With that, Danny comes down the street," Hearn said. "He's in his jumpsuit. He has his helmet on."

"What are you doing here?" Barry asked. Danny was the squad intelligence officer, and an intelligence officer's battle station would more naturally have been at the telephone.

"It's a loony bin in the office. I had to get out," Danny said. The former Army Ranger had gone from home to the squad, where he met two other bomb squad detectives who lived in Manhattan -- Danny McNally, and Steve "Ziggy" Berberich. "The drive from the Bomb Squad office to the location of the World Trade Center was a short one, and we arrived just after the South Tower had collapsed," Danny McNally later wrote in his personal account of the event. "Smoke and dust was everywhere but you could still see plainly."

"I wish I could describe what was happening in great detail, but I can't.

Within a few minutes, the North Tower came down.

"Some survivors say it sounded like a freight train going through your head. To me, it sounded like a mine collapse. We could hear it coming down, powerful, unstoppable. I knew what it was and followed the lead of the man in front of me. I crouched down against the north wall of the lobby and tried my best to become very small. I held onto the frame of the SCBA [self-contained breathing apparatus] of the man in front of me. I held on so hard that I bent the frame. I held on because I did not want to be alone. The man behind me held on to me so hard that his fingers bruised my sides just under my arms. The next day I had perfect purple handprints on my sides.

"The sound and vibration of the tower coming down was frightening. It sounded so powerful and large that I believed I was going to die. I didn't have the gall to ask God to spare me.

"In the blackness that defies description we felt our way along the wall. ... After a few minutes the dust began to settle. I could start to make out shapes. It was at this time I noticed Claude [was] missing. ... I started to call for Danny (Claude's nickname).