Fire/EMS Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices Response


If your agency received a report about a possible "car bombing" incident or suspicous vehicle how would you respond, do you take it seriously, how do you evacuate your entire downtown if the suspected vehicle is located there? These are just a few of the issues that each agency needs to think about when planning for a response to a terrorist "car bombing". Every week on the nightly news we see the scenes of chaos and destruction caused by car bombings around the globe. I have tried to take some of these "lessons learned" in Iraq and apply them to a few first responder training points. There is a tremendous amount of information available on VBIEDs that cannot be covered in the artcile due to time and size constraints. This article outlines a few of the steps that Fire/EMS providers can take to prepare for the growing threat of a potential VBIED bombing. If you have any specific questions reference any of these issues please feel free to contact me. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Please follow all local procedures and guidelines when responding to these types of events.


VBIEDs (vehicle borne improvised explosive devices) are one of the largest hazards in Iraq that Coalition Forces face. Here in Iraq there are unfortunately dozens of "car bombings" a month. As I have stated in previous articles 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 terrorist events at home. VBIEDs have been proven a favorite and effective mode for terrorists to successfully penetrate a target and create injuries and chaos. Enemy forces are now using VBIEDs as one of the the preffered methods of attack on US forces, as this allows the attacker a standoff capability to initiate an attack, employ large amounts fo explosives, cause maximum loss of life and then quickly escape the area. It is important to remember that VBIEDs can employ from 500 or more pounds of explosives. The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing employed approx. 2,000 pounds of fertilizer based explosives and caused tremendous damage.

In Iraq most VBIEDs are unique in nature beacuse the builder has had to improvise with the vehicles and materials at hand. VBIEDs are also usually 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 spohisticated. They have been employed against US forces by several means including:

  • Using locally purchased, wireless, battery powered doorbell devices, car alarms, cordless phones or cell phones to remotely initiate VBIEDs/IEDs
  • Using speaker and similiar type of locally purchased wiring to connect the explosives
  • Using decoy devices (bait devices or vehicles) out in the open to slow or stop US forces in the kill zones
  • Using suicide bombers to guide the vehicle into the target

For additional information on suicide bombers see "Fire/EMS Response to Suicide Bombings" - August Vernon

VBIED attacks can typically be classified in four groups.

  1. Single, stationary VBIED attack: These vehicles can be placed on the side of the road on major highway, busy intersection, crowded market or other choke points with a flat tire, hood up, etc. Will be detonated by timer or from a bomber watching from a distant location.

Some of the current tactics used by insurgents in Iraq is to move VBIEDs in pack of 3 cars. #1 spotter vehicle, #2 VBIED vehicle and #3 photgrapher vehicle to record the attack for later use on the insurgent websites and for recruiting purposes. Insurgents have also been recently taping the hands of the suicide bomber to the steering wheel of the vehicle. This prevents the driver from releasing the steering wheel even if injured during the attack.

US Armed 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 try to avoid these suspicous vehicles and vehicle choke points, constant communications with other vehicles in the patrol or convoy, varying routes and times, switching lanes at random and many other means (not listed here due to security concerns) when used will help reduce the risk from these devices.The methods of attack listed above are currently described in such means as the insurgents training and recruitment videos, Al Qaeda Manuals and several extremists websites making them 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.

These tactics are neccesary due to the extreme environment in Iraq. But, when responding to a VBIED/IED event or suspected VBIED/IED first responders in the United States 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 information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Please follow all local procedures and guidelines when responding to these types of events.


Pre-detonation response occurs before an explosion occurs. If there's a report of a possible VBIED, little time will be available for police intervention if the vehicle is being driven by a possible homicide bomber. Especially when the vehicle is moving toward their target. The following are important considerations to prepare for response to bombings:

  • 9-1-1 call takers/dispatchers must obtain as much information as possible. Every effort should be made to keep the callers on the line during the response. Extreme specificity should be obtained from the caller about the direct knowledge they possess as to why the vehicle is suspected of being a possible VBIED.


Post-detonation response takes place after an explosion has occurred. It's important to note that a VBIED bombing has the overwhelming potential to produce a large number of victims and fatalities:

  • 9-1-1 call takers/dispatchers must get as much information as possible.


If a first responder (Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement) comes across a suspicous vehicle or device during routine activities immediately inform all personel and leave the area. DO NOT USE YOUR RADIO for this activity until your are some distance away (300-500 meters) from the vehicle. If you find yourself next to a possible VBIED/IED the responder should take these steps:

  • Call out to other personel that you have found something (wires, devices, containers, etc.)
  • Do not touch or move anything.
  • Do not open or close doors, hood, trunk, etc.
  • If inside the vehicle exit the same way you entered.
  • Move yourself, other responders and the public out of the area as quickly as possible.

At this point in the incident time could be essential as the device could possibly be set on a timer or could be detonated remotely by an individual watching the incident. Remember that if you discover either an exploded or unexploded VBIED that you have discovered a serious crime scene and must be treated as such. Several important decisions will need to be made at the scene.


The Incident Management System(IMS) is one of the best tools for agencies to use to deal with these type of events. Upon being notifed of an actual or suspected VBIED the Incident Commander (IC) should implement the US Army 5 C's RULE: CONFIRM there is a device, CLEAR the area, CORDON the location off, CONTROL all entry and exit points and CHECK the immediate area for secondary devices. A VBIED or IED response is also very similiar to a hazardous materials response with your "zones of control": Hot zone (where device is located), Warm Zone (where the perimiter will be established) and the Cold Zone (location of Unified Command Post, staging, etc.) All appropriate agencies (Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement, Bomb Squad, OEM, hospital,etc.) should be notified as soon as possible. According to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the minimum safe evacuation distance for a small compact sedan loaded with up to 500 pounds of explosives is 1,500 feet. Larger vehicles can require up to 6 or 7,000 feet for the minimum safe evacuation distance. Something to think about when there could be dozens or even hundreds of people within that range that will need to be quickly and safely evacuated away from the "hot zone".The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Please follow all local procedures and guidelines when responding to these types of events.


Public safety agencies must recognize the fact that there are active domestic and international threat groups/individuals that are willing to design and use VBIEDs against the public and first responders. One important note to remember is that there are active hate groups and extremists located in all 50 states and most countries around the Globe. PREPERATION is the key to a VBIED/IED incident and that includes a clear idea of your actions before the incident occurs. The first step in your preparation is providing proper training to all response personnel. This should include an awareness of the hazards associated with IEDs/VBIEDs and suspected IEDs/VBIEDs and the proper steps for the responder to take. I have tried to provide some points of contact and links below that can help with your training needs. If your agency is interested in specific training reference suicide bombers or VBIEDs please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below.

If there is a local "Bomb Squad" or Hazardous Devices unit in your jurisdiction contact them to ask for assistance with your training and planning. Most bomb technicians should be willing to provide your agency with training on their procedures and equipment since they will require your support (Fire/EMS) during an actual incident.

Another important training lesson learned in Iraq is the importance of "Tactical Medics". There is certainly a demand for tactical medics in the United States. Tactical medics are great assets to any agency or special teams on "Critical Incident" responses (barricaded subjects, civil unrest, VIP escorts, meth lab responses, etc.) These medics have received additional training in multiple subjects such as law enforcement operations, firearms use and safing,remote site medical care, preventive medicine, tactics, ballistic injuries, etc. It is important that every jurisdiction have a trained and equipped tactical medic team at their disposal. One excellent resource for additional information on tactical medicine and "real world" tactical medic training is

Another excellent training resource in the United States for First Responders is the the Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings (IRTB) course located in Soccoro, New Mexico. The course is funded through the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This course provides the first responder with a tremendous amount of information regarding planning for and responding to IED or terrorist events. The student will be able to personally witness actual live explosive events ranging from a small PVC pipe bomb to a large 500 pound car bomb. Course also allows the student to return to their respective agency and provide awareness level training. I attended the IRTB course in 2003 and it is certainly worth a week of your time. For additional information please see

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Please follow all local procedures and guidelines when responding to these types of events. The world has drastically changed and will continue to do so. The information presented here is intended to help agencies with planning and training efforts. The community has entrusted us with their safety so we must prepare now. Remember to STAY ALERT and STAY SAFE!

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August Vernon is currently a US DOD (Department of Defense) Security Contractor serving in Iraq since July, 2004. He served with Emergency Management from 2000 to 2004 and the Fire Service since 1990. Currently a North Carolina Fire Service Instructor, Vernon served as a Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) Operations Specialist with the US Army from 1991-1995. He teaches courses in Terrorism/WMD Response and has written articles published in various national publications. August can be reached reference questions, comments or training at