Fire & EMS Response To Improvised Explosives Devices

Each year across North America there are dozens of events involving actual and suspected IEDs. Unfortunately here in Iraq there are dozens of IED events weekly.

How does your agency respond to reports of suspicious packages or events reported to involve IEDs (Improvised Explosives Devices)?

Each year across North America there are dozens of events involving actual and suspected IEDs. Unfortunately here in Iraq there are dozens of IED events weekly. It is important that we take these valuable and sometimes fatal lessons learned here in Iraq and apply them to our training and planning for critical incidents at home.

This is a critical component of the Homeland Defense concept. First responders will encounter many challenges during their careers, possibly including suspicious packages and IEDs. I have tried to take some of these lessons learned and integrate them into a first responder training package.

There is a tremendous amount of information available on IED training, response operations, planning, terrorism overviews and other important issues that cannot be covered in the article due to time and size constraints. The article will focus primarily on a few key points. If you have any questions in reference to any of these or other issues please feel free to contact me.


IEDs are one of the largest hazards in Iraq that Coalition Forces face. Enemy forces are now using IEDs as the preferred method of attack on U.S. forces, as this allows the attacker a standoff capability to initiate an attack and then quickly escape the area. Currently, 40 to 60 percent of all attacks in Iraq begin with an IED.

In Iraq most IEDs are unique in nature because the builder has had to improvise with the materials at hand. IEDs are also designed to defeat a specific target or type of target, so they will generally become difficult to detect and protect against as they become more sophisticated. They have been employed against U.S. forces by several means including:

  • Using command detonated devices
  • Using locally purchased battery powered doorbell devices to remotely initiate IEDs
  • Using speaker and similar type wiring to connect the explosives
  • Decoy devices (bait devices) out in the open to slow or stop U.S. forces in the kill zones
  • Grenades hidden is soda cans
  • Devices thrown from bridges/overpasses
  • Devices thrown in front of vehicles,
  • Buried in potholes or in the side of the road
  • Stuffed in dead animals or trash piles on the side of the road
  • Hung from bridges and signs
  • Placed in garbage bins
  • Inside of vehicles as VBIEDs (vehicle borne IEDs). These can be placed on the side of the road with a flat tire, hood up, etc.
  • Attached to suicide bombers (for additional information on suicide bombers see, August, Vernon, "Fire/EMS Response to Suicide Bombings")

U.S. Forces and security contractor teams in Iraq use several methods to deal with this hazard when on the road. All personnel in a vehicle remain constantly alert and look for these devices or places where they may be hidden. They vary routes and times, switching lanes at random and use many other means (not listed here due to security concerns) to reduce the risk from these devices.

These tactics are necessary due to the extreme environment in Iraq. But, when responding to an IED event or possible IED, responders need to become somewhat more "tactical" in their thinking. When responding, get all the dispatch information you can. Look at the routes into the event. Survey the scene for a moment. Keep an escape route to get out of the scene quickly. Look at the area where you are parking and staging. Be aware of secondary devices, etc.

The methods of attack listed above are currently described in such publications as the Al Qaeda Manual and on several extremists Websites and are easily available to anyone with an interest. Any of the means described above could be used in the United States during a terrorist attack. The design and implementation of these devices are only limited by the imagination of the bomber. An IED can look like ANYTHING!


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