OCCUPATION: President, Explosive Service International.
Billy Poe was commander of Louisiana State Police’s Hazardous Material and Explosives Control Unit from its inception in 1970 until he retired in 1987, when he formed the Baton Rouge-based company Explosive Service International. He has also worked with the U.S. State Department, teaching explosives safety courses. Both of his sons have served as State Police troopers.
How did you become interested in working with explosives?
“As a kid working on a farm, I guess. I worked a little bit with a guy that worked for my uncle who blew up stumps and beaver dams. So I knew a little bit about it, not anything technical. And then I guess in the military, when I went into the Army. The latter stint of my Army training was with combat engineers, and after that time I got into State Police to finish up my Army Reserve obligation, and I got to go through some explosives courses there.”
You led the hazardous substances division for 17 years. Tell us about that division.
“It included bomb squad, commercial control explosives, haz-mat, emergency response, haz-mat enforcement. State Police handled the hazardous material regulations, and we regulated all modes of transport of haz-mat before some of those regulations were transferred to the state Department of Transportation and Development. We had the capability to respond to emergencies like the Livingston train derailment (in 1982).”
Do troopers and others working with explosives need to have a good grasp of chemistry?
“Yes, they’ve received a lot of training on explosives and chemistry of explosives, chemistry of hazardous materials. The average road trooper has some knowledge of explosives and explosive devices, mainly from an emergency response standpoint of what to do and what not to do for public safety.”
What else did you do after retiring from State Police?
“I had worked for the U.S. State Department a little bit on contracts my last couple of years with State Police and some training, helped develop some courses on bomb disposal and training. The State Department came to me and said, ‘We want to develop this course called Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program.’ I got together some instructors, and we put together a four-week lesson plan for teaching police officers in underdeveloped countries how to disarm bombs.”
What type of work does your company do?
“We’re doing some deepwater salvage stuff, we do salvage work out in the Gulf, take out structures, marine salvage work. Basically, anything that can be done with explosives, we try to do it. I’ve got some government contracts. We do some research and development work on some stuff being developed for our soldiers over in Iraq, some new equipment, new procedures.”
Can you say what you’re doing with those government contracts?
“(Laughs) Just trying to protect our guys. My office manager, Mary, her son is a Marine in Afghanistan right now. So things are a little touchy.”
How do you ensure the explosives and devices you’re working on under these contracts don’t end up in the wrong hands?
“We just do the research and development on it. There’s a major contractor in Washington we work with. They come down to our range and our facility and ask us to help develop it. We may start out with four or five different things, and we’ll narrow it down to one or two different things, and finally they’ll nail it down to one”
Do you sell explosives?
“I’m a manufacturer. I go through about 150,000 pounds of explosives a year. I never thought I’d ever get that big. We have a manufacturing facility north of here. We make our own explosives. We make our own shaped charges. I don’t sell explosives. I don’t want the liability of selling explosives.”
Advocate staff writer