When Richard R. Wagner was appointed Chief of the Cleveland Division of Police, one of his goals was ensure that his officers had the safest equipment available. To that end, he reached out to the manufacturing community in 1965, asking them to devise something to protect officers when disarming bombs. Park Drop Forge took up the gauntlet and designed and constructed a portable bomb shield. Republic Steel donated the titanium for the project and in May of 1966, the new bomb shield was unveiled.
Chief Wagner and representatives from the two manufacturing firms introduced the shield, nicknamed “Nitro Nelly,” to the Detectives assigned to the Scientific Investigation Unit Forensic Laboratory on May 14th, 1966. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “This week Nitro Nelly joins the Cleveland Police Department as part of Police Chief Wagner’s drive for safer equipment for his men. It is only proper and fitting that this newest piece of life-saving equipment was donated this week, for Peace Officers’ Memorial Week, so designated by Congress to honor policemen killed in the line of duty.”
The Plain Dealer went on describing the device and the process:
The bomb shield, which the president of Park Drop Forge, George A. Briemont, estimates would cost $10,000 if the city had to buy it, will increase the chances that the sergeant and his men will stay alive. “Nitro Nelly” weighs 200 pounds. The shield is more than seven feet long and four feet high when unfolded and ready for use.
Charles C. Brinza, Park Drop Forge purchasing agent, expedited construction. Briemont, however, is credited with giving the project the needed civic push. “We donated our time and men because we definitely feel a need for fellows like this one (he pointed at Dombrowski) to stay alive on the Cleveland Police Department,” Briemont said.
The shield is on four four-inch wheels and can be wheeled into any building or any place a bomb might be planted. The prow of the shield, made of two pieces of titanium one-eighth inch thick separated by honey-combed aluminum, has two holes in it and a clear, shatter-proof plastic window.
Nine-foot poles, with hooks, saws and other special tools, are inserted through the holes. These extensions of hands are manipulated to pick up the bomb, or if it is tied down, to saw it loose.
An X-ray unit is used to see if the bomb is real and triggered. If it is a real bomb attempts are made to transport it to an isolated area where it can be detonated. If this is not possible – and this is where the real hazard lies – members of the squad must work quickly, but carefully, to disarm the bomb.
“The real need,” Sgt. Dombrowski said, “now that we have the bomb shield, is for a heavy-duty truck upon which we can build a device into which we can place the bomb. We could then transport it to an isolated area and detonate it.”
Sgt. Dombrowski explained that although the number of bomb threats is not increasing, his unit is faced with greater skill in building bombs and scientific advances which have made explosives more dangerous.
“Bombs are used almost exclusively by cowardly persons who wish to intimidate or coerce anther person into doing something against his will,” he said. He explained that although stringent laws and harsh penalties for use of explosives and false bomb threats exist, the recipient rarely volunteers any information as to why he was the target of a bomb.May 15, 1966, Plain Dealer
Retired S.I.U. Superintendent Victor Kovacic explained that the Bomb Squad tried to use Nitro Nelly several times, but the device was just too heavy and cumbersome to use easily. Soon, Nitro Nelly was left in storage. Then, during the 1970s transition from the Payne Avenue Central Police Station to the new police headquarters at the Justice Center, Nitro Nelly apparently was misplaced.
Present during the May 15, 1966 debut of Nitro Nelly were the members of the Cleveland Police Bomb Squad, Police Chief Richard Wagner, Inspector Lawrence Choura, Deputy Inspector Edwin Nagorski, Captain Jerome Polking, and representatives from Park Drop Forge and Republic Steel. Below are photographs from that day.
Written by Cleveland Police Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.
Photographs were donated by Sergeant Anthony Gorsek, Ret.