Home Interviews THMG171 – Explosives In the Mangroves

THMG171 – Explosives In the Mangroves


In this episode, Bob and Mike explore a real life situation that took place in a mangrove forest in Florida.

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Complete Show Notes

4:00 Introduction to Mike Bloski

  • Works for Southern Manatee County fire district – provides hazardous materials response to this region
  • Cover a large range in terms of hazmat response – added a hazmat team in 2014 since there was a need there
  • Mike left the engine and was put on as a hazmat captain to administer hazardous materials duties

5:30 The Incident

  • Happened in the evening on Saturday, February 9th
  • Person in question lived in a secluded area of Florida on a small island – went fishing and passed by a marsh-like area with lots of mangroves
  • Had been spotting a 4-inch, 7-foot long PVC tube hanging from the trees for the last two years
  • Towed it back to his house on the back of his canoe and began examining it – said “open here” on one of the ends
  • Decided to cut the end off it with a chainsaw and emptied the contents – found a newspaper from 1976 that was presumably used for wadding
  • Inside were 5 hard-wrapped cylinders in wax paper – almost looked like a hard salami roll you’d find at a deli
  • Those were wrapped in yellow hazmat matting
  • Opened one of them with a knife and found a substance that looked like a mixture of brown sugar and white crystals – also had an unusual odor
  • At that point, he called the sheriff’s department – a deputy went over, but he couldn’t identify the substance
  • Deputy called field experts who specialized in those types of substances – they tested the substance, which presumptively tested positive for what they thought was cocaine
  • At this point, the homeowner and two deputies who examined the substance were all complaining of severe headaches

11:20 Arriving on Scene

  • Mike’s team gave the deputies and homeowner some decon wipes as a precautionary measure
  • At this point, their headaches had subsided
  • Mike and another tech made entry and located where the substance was – it was very dark at this point
  • Ran a paper test – didn’t see much; also used water paper, which showed some humidity inside the roll
  • When they used KI paper, it started to turn black – this indicated they were dealing with some kind of explosive that contained potassium
  • Shot a sample with the FTIR and Raman – showed sodium arsenate
  • At this point, Mike began suspecting they were dealing with an explosive – results also showed there was an 80% concentration of nitroglycerin, 10% of ammonium nitrate, and 10% of black gunpowder
  • Took some photographs, backed out, and called in a bomb squad
  • Noticed all four of the rolls were sweating at this point – took KI paper and rubbed it across it – it also turned black

17:15 PPE Selection

  • Chose to wear Level B because they were worried it could be heroin laced with fentanyl
  • Didn’t feel there was a risk of flammability, but didn’t want to take chances with structural fire gear

25:55 Bomb Squad

  • Called the bomb squad and told them there was no breathing hazard around the substance
  • Told them he thought it was a blasting agent of some sort
  • Older team member brought up how people used to put explosives in tubes back in the 70s to blow up mangroves and create channels for boats
  • Ran the markings on the pipe – found out it was only made between 1970-1980 by one company
  • Bomb squad brought the bomb squad down and loaded up the four remaining tubes and the bag
  • Put them in a 35 overpack drum with hazmat waste bags and poured 2-3 gallons of diesel fuel in to stabilize the rolls
  • Detonated the substance in a nearby field – it was quite an explosion

34:35 Command Set-Up

  • Highest-ranking law enforcement officer on the scene was a shift supervisor lieutenant
  • Mike’s team had worked with the on-site fire team many times, and that team trusted his team would take over and handle the situation

35:55 What Could the Team Have Done Differently?

  • Slow down operations – if it was cocaine, they could have formulated a plan to get rid of it via local law enforcement
  • Bring a 5-gallon bucket
  • Create a work space within the hot zone to figure out what you’re going to do

38:05 Contacting Mike

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