Hong Kong’s female bomb disposal officers on keeping your nerve, blazing a trail, and breaking the glass ceiling
The police force’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau has four women – the highest number to date – and their presence required a period of adjustment for the team, the women say
When Nicole Kwong Ling-fung entered a Wan Chai construction site in May, where a 450kg bomb was to be defused, she soon found herself up to the waist in dirt.
“I didn’t know if it was going to suddenly explode,” said Kwong, an operator with the Hong Kong police force’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau. “It had been weathered underground for so long that it had become extremely unstable.”
Kwong, 35, quickly sank into the soft, wet mud as she took part in the delicate operation over 20 hours. The wartime bomb was the third in recent years discovered at the construction site for the Sha Tin-Central link, a HK$97.1 billion (US$12 billion) railway project.
Kwong joined the bureau seven years ago and now specialises in handling improvised explosive devices.
She is one of four women working part-time at the unit – the highest number of female officers to date.
Set up in 1972, the bureau has recruited just seven women in that time. The current four work alongside 38 male counterparts.
The women say blasting through the so-called glass ceiling has not been without challenges.
Kwong’s colleague, Suzette Foo Yat-ting, 42, still remembers showing up at the office for her first day in 2001.
“There was no female locker room, no women’s facilities at all,” Foo said. “The whole team went through a period [of adjustment] to adapt to my existence.”
Now a director in charge of training, Foo was the first female bomb expert to pass the bureau’s demanding assessment and training process.
“When I took the physical fitness test, most fellow trainees were like: ‘Wow, how are you going to do this?’” she said.
“It really took courage from the whole bureau to accept a woman.”
Women are indispensable to the police force, Foo said, as they are often more capable of listening to different voices or creating a harmonious team environment.
For Kwong, what some may lack in physical strength, they more than make up for with technical and analytical skills when dealing with explosives.
“As long as you develop a systematic mindset, I don’t feel there is a huge difference between men and women doing this job,” she said.
“Even in the police force, not many female officers would be willing to deal with bombs.”
Kwong said she felt lucky her parents had been so supportive of her career choice.
“They said: ‘If that’s what you want to do, you should go for it.’ They respect my choice and are proud of what I do because they think I am really helping people.”
Reflecting on May’s operation to defuse the bomb in Wan Chai, Kwong remembered the thrill.
“I just felt so excited to actually go to the scene,” she said. “Weird as it sounds, I still get so thrilled every time I take part in an operation and get the chance to practise what I learned in training.
“When I am looking at the bombs, all I can think about is stopping them hurting my family and the families of other people,” she said.
“So instead of being scared, I focus on two questions: what is the problem, and how do I solve it?”