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Fireworks illegally modified pose major blast risks
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Sgt. Gregg Beall is one of Manteca Police’s go to guys when they are dealing with a suspicious object that might harbor an explosive device.
He’s part of the Metro Bomb Squad — a joint effort of the Stockton, Manteca, and Lodi police departments as well as the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s office — that get the call to check out suspicious items and to detonate or defuse ones that turn out to be explosive.
But give him a choice between handling plastic explosives or illegally modified fireworks; he’ll take the plastic explosives any time.
“You never know how people have modified them,” Beall said of fireworks. “Black powder is very unpredictable.”
Beall told Manteca Rotarians during a recent meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room that fireworks have led to major explosions that are just as intense as a pipe bomb.
With the Fourth of July approaching, illegal fireworks — those that are manufactured to get airborne or move across the ground — will become a pressing concern.
Manteca Police and Manteca Fire personnel in a typical year seize between 600 to 700 pounds of illegal fireworks. The biggest annual haul was in 2014 when 3,000 pounds of illegal fireworks were seized within Manteca’s city limits.
Among those are fireworks that were legal before they were modified. Beall said such modified fireworks can be especially dangerous. That’s because people modifying them illegally  may think they know what they are doing but don’t. They end up creating devices that are completely unpredictable.
Beall noted domestic law enforcement agencies dealing with explosive devices have benefitted greatly by military technology advances made in dealing with improvised explosive devices in war zones.
Manteca, as an example has a $65,000 robot that allows it to inspect suspicious items and, in some cases when there is an actual device, rendering it harmless. But in many cases it still takes bomb squad members suiting up in special 95-pound suits to retrieve suspicious devices and prepare them for remote detonation.
The robot can also be used in tactical situations to get “eyes” on subjects in situations where they are barricaded in a house to reduce risks to officers.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email