Safety precautions in handling vintage bombs
It was a mixture of pity and shame that I felt upon reading the news about that deadly explosion in Taguig, Rizal, which was reported in the Jan. 25 issue of the Inquirer. Among those blamed for the explosion were my colleagues, reportedly members of a Special Action Force-Explosive Ordnance Disposal team of the Philippine National Police. They had brought a vintage mortar shell to a welding shop in Taguig. After failing to defuse it using a wrench, they sought the help of a worker from the shop, asking him to use a welding device instead, which led to the explosion and the death of four people and injury to eight others.
Pity because the deaths were caused by sheer senselessness. Shame because the explosion was caused by plain recklessness and ignorance, especially because those responsible for the explosion were members of a special ordance disposal unit. According to authorities, “vintage bombs” or “explosive remnants of war” (ERWs) can be classified into two categories: “unexploded ordnance” (UXO) and “discarded military munitions” (DMM).
UXO is the more dangerous category because it has been readied for use or has been used and just malfunctioned (i.e., it has not exploded as intended) although the fuse has been activated; therefore, the explosive condition of the ordnance is unknown. On the other hand, a DMM has not yet been readied for use or has yet to be used. Either it has been abandoned or discarded to lighten the load of maneuvering troops. Given that even experts cannot consistently distinguish between DMM and UXO, vintage bombs or ERWs must be presumed to be UXO.
Also, UXO’s condition, especially the fuse, is a critical variable in the likelihood of an unintentional detonation. Even professionals in the field of explosive ordnance disposal cannot determine whether or not the fuse of an UXO has been armed but has failed to function as intended. So basic as it is, explosives are sensitive to shock and heat, how much more when they are subjected to a flame fueled by acetylene. Even the so-called “Goodbye Philippines” firecracker is deadly, more so are the ERWs.
UXOs and DMMs should be handled with extreme caution. Let’s leave them to the experts. There is no room for error in dealing with unexploded ordnance.
Hence, the following safety precautions have been issued: (1) Do not move any closer to a UXO or DMM after observing it; (2) Do not touch, move, disturb and attempt to pick up a UXO or DMM; (3) Do not attempt to remove an object on, attach to, or near the UXO or DMM, and (4) When reporting the discovery of a UXO or DMM, do not use any electronic communication devices, such as cell phones, near the UXO or DMM.
—ALEX B. BALAORO,
police officer 1,
Legazpi City Police Station,
Alternate Road, Legazpi City
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