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​Special Teams: Expecting the unexpected

Sept. 21, 2017

Photo of a Minneapolis Police Bomb Squad truck.
​Photo: When first responders need help with bombs, aerial rescues, chemical releases and a host of other unusual situations, they call on HSEM’s Special Teams.


If real life were anything like TV, first responders would do nothing but save people from hostage situations and defuse bombs all day. In reality, much of a first responder’s life consists of things like traffic stops, fire calls and paperwork. But that doesn’t mean nothing unusual ever happens, so they have to be ready for it.

That’s where the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s (HSEM) State Emergency Response Teams (also referred to as Special Teams) come in. When local first responders encounter something they can’t handle themselves, they call the special team best suited to the situation.

Each team consists of fire department and law enforcement personnel working together. They’ll bring all the equipment they need with them, whether it’s a water supply for decontamination or a hazardous device disposal robot. Here are some of the special teams and their functions:

  • Minnesota’s 11 trained Chemical Assessment Teams (CATs) identify, monitor and mitigate simple chemical threats, whether it’s a hazardous materials release like a chlorine leak at a water treatment plant or the rollover of a tanker carrying anhydrous ammonia.
  • There are four Bomb Disposal Units in Minnesota. They respond to issues such as suspicious packages, drug labs, unexploded ordnances like old fireworks or grenades, and old dynamite on farms.
  • The Structural Collapse Team — also known as Minnesota Task Force 1 — is composed of five teams. They conduct technical rescues in confined spaces, like trenches, or low and high angles, like caves and river bluffs. Their work also includes cutting through reinforced concrete and steel to search collapsed structures for potential victims and responding to situations like the deadly Lilydale landslide in 2013.
  • The Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team (MART) consists of the Minnesota State Patrol helicopter and members of the St. Paul Fire Department. MART can perform aerial rescues from hard-to-reach places on-the-ground teams can’t get to, like lighthouses and swamps.

Hopefully, you’ll never be in a situation where you’ll need Special Teams. But if you ever do, you’ll find they’re a great example of how state and local law enforcement and fire departments work together toward the same goal: keeping Minnesotans safe.