By Vee Glessner, Correspondent
Jay Henze, Special Agent Bomb Technician for the FBI Phoenix office, has one of the jobs closest to what’s found in action and spy movies. Although it’s perhaps not as lively nor explosive in real life, bomb technicians are core to the FBI’s response to potential explosive threats.
The bomb technician program in Phoenix for which Henze is the Team Lead supports public safety bomb squads, such as local police forces, as needed when they are responding to threats as well as supporting other sectors of the FBI when they are out in the field. “We are really good at working collaboratively,” said Henze.
After 8 years in the Army Reserves and 8 years as a police officer in Tucson, Henze joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a Special Agent. He had already been certified as a bomb technician at the country’s only program in Huntsville, Ala. during his time in law enforcement. “All of my experiences have helped me with life, but being a police officer in uniform, working with people on the street and learning from my experiences, has been the biggest advantage for me to be successful here at the FBI,” says Henze.
When the bomb squad goes out on a call, Henze is running the scene and delegating tasks to his team. When they’re supporting a public safety response, Henze reports to the local law enforcement coordinating explosive threat efforts. The FBI bomb squad can provide additional personnel and experience: “We bring more expertise and specialized equipment. We train our public safety bomb technicians to do the same things we do, but we can bring different experiences,” said Henze of the collaborative responses.
The FBI also frequently gets involved when the subject(s) of the explosive threat might be tied to an ongoing investigation, Henze pointed out. “Most bombings could be charged federally. …[If] the subject involved could be someone that is affiliated with some of the squads we have here under federal jurisdiction, we may get involved and open up an investigation as well.”
The field work can be intensive, but you don’t have to be a thrill-seeker to go into this role. “Bomb techs just want to do their job. They love doing what they do, and they want to excel at it,” says Henze. However, dealing with an unknown object of unknown origin does have its risks. “We know it [an explosive incident] could happen, but we’re focused on doing a really good job and keeping people safe,” Henze commented.
Of course, the job isn’t just field work. As Team Lead, Henze handles forecasting for training, personnel, and maintenance as well as managing his team, splitting their time between their activities. “We work on a three-tier cycle,” according to Henze. “One is maintenance, one is training, and one is response. All of them can coincide with each other; we might be doing maintenance one day or one week and during that cycle we have a couple responses.”
Maintenance generally consists of ensuring the equipment is always ready to go for a response. The team is on-call 24/7, so it’s of the utmost importance that they’re always ready to respond to a potential threat.
Another portion of their job is training and administrative work. “There’s a lot of stuff that we do; virtual academy training, different legal aspects that we need refreshers on, and general support of our squads here at FBI Phoenix,” says Henze.
All-in-all, Henze estimates the team spends about a quarter of its time in the field. “Some weeks we’re busy the whole week, going out on a lot of calls or something major happens. Every week is different,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the job asks a lot of flexibility and provides a lot of variety. “That’s one thing that’s great about this job,” Henze reflected. “Tomorrow I could be at the Grand Canyon doing something or I could be down in Southern Arizona working on found explosives.” Among their jurisdiction of the state of Arizona, the squad could be anywhere on a given day.
A good bomb technician has strong communication and leadership skills, some technical experience, and is a reliable and trustworthy teammate. “It does take an individual who can work with other people; we’re very good here at Phoenix with working with other bomb squads, whatever their experience level is. Our goal is to effectively respond and safely engage,” says Henze.
Students studying STEM fields are great candidates for this specialized role, but Special Agent positions are open to a variety of majors and backgrounds. Find more information on becoming a Special Agent and other open roles with the FBI at [fbijobs.gov].