The Conway Fire Department Bomb Squad has had its budget cut significantly in light of the city’s general fund reserve shortfall, but victory in a state competition on Tuesday is evidence that the squad is at the top of its game at the start of a lean year, bomb squad administrators say.

There will be $17,000 less in the 2010 CFD budget, and this will mean less training and maintenance for the squad’s equipment, CFD Assistant Fire Chief Mike Winter and Capt. Phillip Short said on Wednesday.

“We have had to make sacrifices ... but the safety of the public is our primary goal, along with our own safety, and we won’t be jeopardizing that,” Winter said.

Winter added that the newest member of the squad has four years of experience, meaning that there are no “green” squad members at the start of a year when less training will be possible.

Neither Winter nor Short were willing to talk about the exact nature of the events they competed in or how they succeeded to a greater degree than did the other squads.

Winter said that members of the bomb squad weren’t trying to be evasive, but that they “don’t want the general public to know exactly what we do” for the obvious reason that if a malicious bomb maker knew exactly what the squad did to render a device safe, it might make it easier for them to make more effective — more deadly — bombs.

Short could say that squad members were presented with mock detonation or ignition devices and had to render them safe within a certain amount of time and competitors were judged on speed and accuracy.

“All of the events that we competed in are timed,” Short said. 

In the competition, a wrong move means that a loud buzzer goes off — a rather more comforting consequence than is found in a real-world scenario but a failure nonetheless.

The prize is a plaque that is displayed at the winning squad’s headquarters until next year’s competition. Winter said that in four years of competition, CFD’s bomb squad has previously held the plaque twice.

Also, Winter said Wednesday was exactly one year since the death of the firefighter who was instrumental in establishing the bomb squad, Division Chief Jon McMahan. Winter agreed that McMahan would have expected his squad to come back with the plaque.

The contest was held in Bentonville and competing squads included those out of Bentonville, Fort Smith and Little Rock agencies. Due to the need to be frugal in light of the budget cut, Winter said, CFD’s bomb squad competitors paid their own way to and from the competition.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at Send us your news at