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Our view: Bomb-squad decision a tragedy waiting to happen

A pipe bomb was found last week outside an early-childhood center in Hermantown. A scary situation. Kids had to be hurried home to safety, their frightened families' days altered and marred. Traffic had to be moved along busy Miller Trunk Highway...

A pipe bomb was found last week outside an early-childhood center in Hermantown. A scary situation. Kids had to be hurried home to safety, their frightened families’ days altered and marred. Traffic had to be moved along busy Miller Trunk Highway, adding to the tension of a potentially perilous situation that dragged on literally for hours - and needlessly so.
The incident could have, and should have, been resolved, with safety restored, far faster than that and with far less anxiousness. That’s because Duluth has an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team at the Air National Guard base at Duluth International Airport, home of the 148th Fighter Wing. The team was less than a mile from the incident at the Hermantown Area Family Resource Center. But a different team had to be called to respond last Wednesday - from 115 miles away in Brainerd. It took that team four nervous hours to arrive.
No one has to have seen “The Hurt Locker” to understand how touchy and unpredictably dangerous explosives can be - or how tensely hours can drag by until they’re made safe.
“Not using (the 148th) kind of flies in the face of common sense,” Hermantown Police Chief Jim Crace told the News Tribune. “It’s very frustrating to have such a high-level asset locally and not be able to use it.”
That frustration started in 2012 when the Minnesota National Guard’s adjutant general designated bomb-squad services a military-only asset. The decision remains bewildering at best. Since when doesn’t the National Guard support and help the community?
The 148th’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team actually did respond last week to the Hermantown incident. But all the guard members could do was monitor the situation and test substances inside the explosive. Where’s the common sense in having the guard respond and then not allowing it to do what it has been been trained to do: neutralize the danger?
“We’re the second-largest metro area in the state,” Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said. “We have one of the busiest ports in the country. We should have resources here - and we do - and we should be allowed to use those resources.”
The 148th provided bomb-disposal services for many years to Northland communities. Adding to the gall that those services are no longer available is that local taxpayers have helped to pay to train the guard members. In 2002, for example, Duluth Police and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office gave more than $5,500 of federal grant money so 148th members could train in Tennessee, as the News Tribune’s Tom Olsen and Brady Slater reported.
Wanting to be responsible with public dollars by not duplicating services, “We’ve never sought funding to create our own bomb squad,” Ramsay said. “It would seem silly to have a second bomb squad in the same city.”
From a practical standpoint, though, Duluth right now has zero.
And that has to change. Northland law enforcement officials unsuccessfully have petitioned the National Guard to reinstate the service. Ramsay and St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman wrote letters to Gov. Mark Dayton as recently as October 2013.
They each can send another letter to St. Paul in the wake of last week’s frightening incident. So can Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown  and the rest of the Northland’s legislative delegation. Why have so many been so silent?
No, an explosives-related emergency doesn’t happen often. But if our post-9/11 reality has taught us anything, it’s to stress safety first, with precautions in place, rather than being sorry later, with needed help hundreds of helpless miles away.

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