CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jim Windle is many things – former Marine, arson investigator, kayaking enthusiast.
But most people know him as “the Bomb Guy.”
For the past two decades, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police sergeant has overseen training and operations for the bomb squad.
He’s responded to hundreds of calls, helped create a local emergency response plan that is now a model for cities across the nation, and most recently led bomb-squad operations during the Democratic National Convention.
Windle, 49, retired Wednesday as the longest-serving bomb-squad leader in department history.
“Charlotte-Mecklenburg has one of the most impressive squads in the country under Jim Windle’s tenure,” said Robert Ritchie, the former chief of the FBI’s bomb program and a current special agent bomb technician for the bureau’s Charlotte office.
On his last day at work, Charlotte’s bomb guy gave an Observer reporter a tour of the bomb truck set up at the Quail Hollow Club for the Wells Fargo Championship.
As he opened drawers filled with wires and machines police use to dismantle potential explosive devices, Windle offered a rare glimpse into his years leading the squad and of the high-stress, behind-the-scenes world of bomb technicians.
“Bomb guys are very different from SWAT guys – we’re adrenaline junkies, but we’re the quiet, professional type,” he said, patting the 85-pound protective suit that squad members wear when responding to calls. “Not a lot of bombs go off in Charlotte.
“But we go, and we’re the only ones able to say, ‘yes it is a bomb’ or ‘no, it isn’t’ with certainty.”
The job requires patience, confidence and years of training.
Windle came by the first two naturally, co-workers said, and tackled the third with uncommon eagerness when he was recruited to the bomb squad in 1992.
Two years later, Windle took charge of squad training. He began working with the Charlotte Fire Department to improve response after a bomb scare at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in 1998.
He and Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Dulin created a new response model that sent firefighters with hazardous-materials training to the scenes of bomb threats.
The integration between the two departments made those calls safer, authorities said, because it allowed bomb technicians to focus on dismantling explosives while firefighters checked for any chemical or biological threats.
After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, first responders across the country began to adopt the joint response that, under Windle, Charlotte authorities had been using for years.
“It’s a model that a lot of cities replicated after they saw our success,” Dulin said. “The fostering of relationships that Jim did to make that happen is really what helped us get that.”
Working the DNC
Windle also was instrumental in keeping the center city safe during the DNC, colleagues said.
The bomb squad, which normally sees about 50 calls a year, received 57 reports of suspicious packages in a week, Windle said.
He and other squad members coordinated with the FBI, assisted some 80 additional bomb techs from around the country, and worked long hours to identify and dismantle potential threats.
“Windle kept everybody calm,” said Capt. Steven Brochu, who oversees CMPD’s special operations, including the bomb squad. “He was always very delicate, very calm, very efficient.”
As he packed up the bomb truck, Windle said the DNC brought his career full circle, affirming the response procedures that he helped develop two decades ago.
“When the Secret Service described what they wanted for presidential protection, we had already been practicing it for years,” Windle said.