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An explosive line of work

It was on a Saturday afternoon back in 2001 that Cpl. Wayne Gork found himself in a bomb disposal suit handling a case of unstable dynamite.

It was on a Saturday afternoon back in 2001 that Cpl. Wayne Gork found himself in a bomb disposal suit handling a case of unstable dynamite.

Fresh off his technician’s course the month before, Gork had been called to a residence on the Mayo Road where a woman was going through her late father’s property and her husband came across the explosives.

Soaked in nitroglycerin - which can happen when old dynamite “sweats” over time - it was highly volatile.

“All you have to do is move that the wrong way and it’ll go off,” Gork said.

The decision was made to dig a burn pit, gently move the dynamite and neutralize it with a chemical solution over a three-to-four hour period.

The next day, they found 18 more sticks in a garbage bag under the man’s bed.

Fortunately, they were in better condition and easier to dispose of.

“That’s the worst I’ve ever had up here in terms of commercial explosives,” said Gork, the co-ordinator of the Whitehorse RCMP’s explosive disposal unit.

The part-time group, made up of three members in the territory - two in Whitehorse and one in Watson Lake - has a mandate of dealing with the criminal use of explosives.

They also recover commercial explosives when required, do VIP duties from time to time and take in ammunition from the public, Gork said.

Members have to be tested every three years at the Canadian Police College’s explosive training unit in Ottawa, where they are put through 12 scenarios to test their skills.

They learn how to build and dispose of explosives, how to use equipment such as bomb disposal robots and how to use counter charges to mitigate improvised explosive devices.

If they make two mistakes, they’re sent packing.

In Gork’s line of work, your first mistake is usually your last.

That’s why teamwork is so important.

“When I’m in the suit, about to go down, it’s very heavy and hot in there, you’re restricted in movement,” he said.

“You know your procedures and protocols but under those conditions you’re likely to forget something. The ‘number two’s’ job is to mark the time you’ve been in the suit and talk to you the whole time, making sure you’re doing every step properly.”

When Gork trained in 2001, his instructors told him he couldn’t stay in the suit for more than 15 minutes “because it was 90 degrees in there.”

The suits, which weigh around 60 pounds, are usually made of Kevlar-type material with ballistic plates to protect from fragmentation, and a blast-resistant helmet. He’s also trained in CBRN - chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence.

That came in handy in 2006 when two separate threats were made at federal buildings in Whitehorse.

For the one at the Elijah Smith building downtown, the RCMP had to ask for assistance from the regional EDU team based in Vancouver, B.C.

“Those were the days of anthrax,” Gork said, “so you can’t take that chance.”

It turned out to be bread crumbs in an envelope.

More recently, his unit dealt with a suspicious package that was left behind at the same building.

It turned out to be harmless, but the building had to be evacuated and the surrounding streets cordoned off, as a precaution.

It’s easy to label certain things as suspicious, Gork said, but others aren’t so cut and dry.

There have been instances when Gork has been called about luggage left behind at the airport, which just turned out to be someone’s honest mistake.

“Every circumstance is different and it depends on the information we have and collect,” he said.

“In this day and age we have to be careful because there have been some threats made against Canada. We have to be vigilant.”

With a background in mechanical engineering, Gork was a weapons technician for the Canadian Army for eight years.

He got his first taste of explosives work during an overseas visit to England in 1991 for the Bisley shoot, a rifle competition, and the Irish Republican Army had made some threats.

Gork was the driver of an unmarked van and he had to sweep the vehicle for explosives with a mirror.

When he left the army in 1993, he became a police officer in Ottawa and was eventually posted to the Whitehorse detachment in 1997.

A few years later, he began working with the EDU as a “striker,” someone who shadows the unit to learn more about its practices.

“They want to see if you fit the mold for the type of work,” he said.

“If you have the skills, they send you away to Ottawa for the training.”

Gork is now one of the instructors at the training centre, and he plans on going back there in November to teach.

If EDU members make it to 12 years, they’ve done well, Gork said.

He calls himself one of the “old timers.”

“I know when I retire, it’ll be one of the things I’ll really miss,” he said.

“It’s been really rewarding.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at