Two police officers will receive FBI explosives training in Alabama.

PORTLAND (AP) – Maine’s largest city will be getting its own bomb squad.

Two Portland police officers will attend the FBI explosives academy in Huntsville, Ala., to gain certification in identifying and dismantling explosives.

Police Chief Michael Chitwood said the two officers will be chosen from a pool of volunteers. “It’s a dangerous situation, but I think it’s important. They would be the best we could pick out of the department,” Chitwood said. The dates for the five weeks of training at the Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal have not been set.

The Maine State Police bomb squad, whose five members are spread across the state, responded to 72 calls in 2002. Bangor also has a bomb squad.

Chitwood said Portland, home to the state’s busiest airport and a bustling seaport, should have its own people trained to respond to suspicious packages and devices.

Portland already has a bomb-sniffing dog which responds to incidents throughout the suburbs of Greater Portland. The bomb squad will also be available to neighboring communities that have mutual aid relationships with Portland.

Demand for such expertise has increased along with the threat level in recent years, Chitwood says.

In 2001, the city’s bomb detection dog was called to one incident where an actual explosive was found, four suspicious packages and 24 calls to the Portland International Jetport. In 2003, it was called to two incidents with explosives, six suspicious packages and 63 calls to the jetport.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Governmental Affairs Committee, appealed to FBI Director Robert Mueller to help move Portland’s application to attend the academy to the front of the line. Getting a spot in an academy class can sometimes take two years, Chitwood said.

Collins said it makes sense for a city as busy as Portland to have bomb technicians close at hand.

“We in Maine feel relatively safe, but we do have certain vulnerabilities,” Collins said. Portland’s port is one of the busiest in New England based on the volume of cargo, she said, and the city’s airport was where two of the Sept. 11 terrorists started their mission.

The federal government will underwrite the training and help equip the team, with the city responsible for filling the vacancies while the officers are in training, Chitwood said.

AP-ES-03-08-04 0902EST

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