The head of B.C.’s RCMP explosive disposal unit (EDU) recently highlighted his team’s work in the province.
Just 14 specially trained technicians are responsible for monitoring the entire province, with the EDU’s responsibilities ranging from explosive to chemical to nuclear threats.
One of their higher profile cases that the EDU responded to was the dramatic shootout at the BMO branch in Saanich last year.
On June 28, 2022, armed twin brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie held 22 people hostage inside the bank, ultimately resulting in both brothers being shot and killed, as well as six police officers being injured, three of whom received serious shooting wounds.
The RCMP say the explosive disposal unit was called to the scene to help contain the brothers’ vehicle that was parked in the bank’s parking lot.
Inside their white Toyota Camry was more than 30 improved explosives, as well as 3,500 rounds of ammunition and other firearms.
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The EDU arrived in Saanich from Metro Vancouver and secured the explosives before transporting them outside the city for detonation.
After the controlled detonation, all evidence, such as pieces of metal from the explosives, was collected and turned over to investigators.
“There is always risk in our work,” said Staff Sgt. Brent Elwood, Officer in Charge of the EDU, in a release Friday.
“When you are dealing with explosives, if something were to go wrong, it’s catastrophic,” he said. “That’s the nature of explosives.”
While the EDU monitors the entire province, Elwood says he’d like to have the unit expand into different teams.
Currently, the EDU is based in the Lower Mainland, with no one permanently stationed on Vancouver Island.
That means that when an explosives-related incident is reported on the Island, the EDU must travel there.
He adds that the team is unable to move on until it has resolved the incident.
“While there is the unpredictability and challenge of what you may face when you get called to an incident, it is still very satisfying knowing you have saved lives,” said Elwood.
Robots and more
As far as equipment goes, RCMP note that EDU members wear 90-pound (40 kg) suits to protect themselves from potential explosions, though their hands must remain bare so they can touch and feel objects.
The explosives unit is also trained to use a remote controlled robot, which has adjustable arms, a claw, and can even climb stairs.
“The robot allows us to remotely investigate potential explosives from a safe distance,” said Elwood.
Ultimately, Elwood says the EDU is “the best kept secret in the RCMP,” and that it plays a crucial role in the safety of the province.