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Posted: October 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

ATF trains in Covington

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The humid peace of a Tuesday morning was broken by a chest-thumping boom as an explosive device shredded the interior of a Covington apartment, spraying glass and metal across a parking lot and setting off a string of anxious car alarms.

In the apartment across the hallway, extremist literature littered a kitchen table as a bloodied "body" lay on the floor - a hand mangled and a leg amputated.

For most people, this would be a scene of devastation and chaos.

For students with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, this was a prime opportunity to put the lessons they have been learning in the classroom to work.

Approximately 24 ATF agents from across the state participated in a four-day Advanced Urban Post Blast training exercise this week in Covington, learning about forensics and workings of different types of explosives that they might encounter in their field.

Three scenes with different explosive devices were set up in the Willow Bend Apartment complex, scheduled for demolition and donated by Ewing South East Reality to the Covington Fire Department for training purposes.

The purpose of the exercise, which employed the forensic chemists, ATF agents, canines, explosive enforcement officers, with support from Covington Fire Department and emergency medical personnel, was to keep agents from different parts of the state up-to-date on the different types of explosives and scenes so that the knowledge would be fresh if they encountered it in the field, according to Sweetow.

"We wanted to simulate something that as going to be inside of reality but a wide enough variety," he said.

According to Scott Sweetow, the assistant special agent in charge at the Atlanta Field Division, there are about 3,500 reported explosive incidents a year in the U.S., or about 10 incidents a day. Though those include accidents, hoax devices, and actual explosions, the majority of those are criminal acts where the

Though the number explosion incidents reported in the U.S. has remained level, the agency has been concerned with an increase in sophistication and experimentation with more exotic types of explosives and chemicals in the cases they've been seeing, said Sweetow.

"It's not a big step for people to go from experimentation to 'O.K., this works, now I know and I'm going to use it,'" he said.

In one setup, the explosion caused a small chunk of the kitchen counter to hurtle through the walls of three apartments, stopping only when it met a brick wall. Such an explosion could have caused multiple casualties to innocent bystanders, pointed out spokesperson Special Agent Marc Jackson.

The agency also provides training for foreign law enforcement agencies and has trained about 2,200 U.S. service members deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan for explosive ordinance disposal and about 600 explosion detection canine teams.

Being able to observe and support the exercise was valuable for the CFD, said Fire Chief Don Floyd, who said the ATF hadn't been called out to Covington since 1984.

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