Disarming hero draws the line

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 May, 1996, 12:00am

Dominic Brittain is a bomb disposal officer with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Bureau. On Monday, he was called to the scene of the shootout in Western, where he examined a haul of firearms, ammunition and explosives.

The 35-year-old, who is single, has been defusing bombs in Hong Kong since 1990. He was previously a police officer and served in the Royal Navy for six years. He worked as a disposal expert in Northern Ireland.

What's on your mind? To be honest, the thing I've thought about most over the past 24 hours is the standard of real guts displayed by officers on the ground. People tend to look for heroes, but the truth is that anything could happen to these constables. It's not like us; we've got half an hour to think about what we're going to do.

Look at the officers on Monday. They had only an instant to get their fear under control and act. If anything goes wrong, the consequences last for the rest of their life.

But isn't your job always high risk? Sometimes it's dangerous. It would be silly to deny we get scared sometimes. You have to plan to think in a certain way to look at the issues the bomb is presenting. You have to act on your assumptions. You've got to be constantly looking at things - the facts - and make sure they fit in with your assumptions. People die when they take assumptions to be facts. You've also got to get your fear under control.

Have you had any close calls? Things don't go the way you expect them to sometimes; you have to act pretty fast. I once spent 23 hours on top of a bomb trying to get it sorted. It was getting worse and worse. In the end, I realised what to do when a colleague came along and suggested something. You learn to accept the fact that you are not a god yourself.

You'll always lose people in this game. I lost a couple of colleagues in Northern Ireland when things went wrong.

What's the attraction of the job? When I was a kid, it was a bad time in Northern Ireland. I remember reading a lot about bomb disposal and I generally had a fixed idea in my mind that that was what I wanted to do. The attraction is that you can make a difference.

How do you feel about the people who plant the bombs? They are destroyers. They want to be somebody. The way they can do this is by destruction. They either need help, or need to be locked up. Bomb disposal is about standing up and making a difference, saying there's a line.