The following was sent to me by a friend who'd rather remain employed (and thus, anonymous). Identifying details have been changed, but otherwise the story happened exactly as told:
So, today I learned in the course of an hour why it's best to just leave some things alone and hope for the best.
I work for a decent-sized web hosting company, and we own a data center, thus we have occasion to have spare parts for fire-suppression systems lying around. While clearing out a storage area, I found 2 explosive actuators for an FM200 (the safer replacement for Halon) system that used to be installed in a datacenter that we don't own any more. Basically, they're blasting caps. They'll take a thumb off, but only if you do something really really stupid.
Not wanting to put them in the "For Sale" pile, and not wanting to just throw them in the dumpster for a homeless guy to find (our datacenter is right downtown, and it's not uncommon to see homeless guys diving our dumpster), I called the bossman at Pyromax (the fireworks company I work for on weekends and in July) and asked what the best way to dispose of them would be. He suggested that I either call the company that Pyromax uses in case of any hazmat spills, or just call the fire department.
So I called the fire dept, but not on the emergency line. Calling the fire dept is mistake the first, one more to follow.
I had called the Fire Prevention Education & Inspection dept, because every other number on the website was for an emergency ops division of the department, or HR. Since the actuators were part of a fire suppression system, I figured maybe the guy on the phone might know who to call about it. Unfortunately, I used the "E" word. Mistake the second, and the really bad one. Guy went completely Homeland Security on me, his brain shut down, and he started freaking out and told me to call 911 immediately, because he was calling them on another phone RIGHT THEN.
So I said ok, I'll call 911.
I did, and was put on hold, but eventually talked to a fire dispatcher and told him what I had (this time avoiding the E word, I just said blasting caps, still apparently a bad move), and asked if maybe they could send someone by to pick these up. I emphasized there was no need for a full-on fire truck, just an inspector would be fine. He said someone was on the way. I called my boss and let him know that I've called the fire dept to come get these parts, but I'm pretty sure they're about to overreact.
The dispatcher sent a truck, running lights and sirens, and 4 fire fighters in turn out gear. GREEEEEAAAAT. As least I'm right about their overreaction.
So, I go out front to meet them, and hand the guys the bag containing the STILL IN FACTORY PACKAGING caps. They have NO IDEA what to do with them so they make a call.
To the HAZMAT crew.
2 more trucks, including HAZMAT 4, the super duper oh-shit-we-spilled-it response vehicle. Luckily, they didn't roll up full lights and sirens.
Now we have 3 big red trucks and 12 firemen (including 2 captains) milling around the parking lot, but still nobody w/ a clue. I'm talking to one of the hazmat guys and as he's taking the report he says "wait, you found these in a store room and just wanted to dispose of them?" "yep, pretty much." It dawns on him that they have COMPLETELY overreacted.
Those that know me might be asking at this point why I didn't just explode the caps myself and throw them in the dumpster. This is a fair question. The reasons are these: 1) our neighbor (at the datacenter) who we share a parking lot with is the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System police department. Sure, they're just transit cops, but I'm not about to start popping blasting caps with them around. They sound far too much like gunshots. 2) I've got some experience w/ explosives, but not enough that I'd want to solo on this. Like I said, these will still take off a thumb, and I like my thumbs. 3) Even if I did want to solo it, I have NO place available to me that I can safely pop these things without someone calling the cops.
Back to the story....
So, then the battalion chief rolls up in his Suburban and starts talking to all his boys who are just standing around our parking lot. About the same time, our COO returns to the office (luckily, he had been warned that there were 3 fire trucks out front) and is just thrilled (except, not really) that we have all this activity going on as rush hour traffic flows by our well-marked building.
So, the hazmat guy has now realized they overreacted, but still nobody knows what to do with the caps.
Next step, call the San Diego PD EOD unit. "Oh shit," I think, "they're gonna bring the bomb robot." The first fire truck start clears out, but there's still a second truck and the HAZMAT van. Luckily, the PD just sends 3 cruisers which are no big deal, the parking lot is full of cruisers (transit cops), and then an unmarked Excursion shows up.
A guy (Bomb Squad Cop) gets out of the unmarked, walks over, and takes a look at the caps, still surrounded by clueless firefighters. He takes them, and throws them on the seat of his truck. HAZMAT leaves. Bomb Squad Cop (luckily NOT in full cut-the-blue-wire-not-the-red-one gear) asks me for my name and phone number, talks to the other cops for a minute, and then leaves. I got his number, just in case.
Screw that noise. Next time, the homeless dumpster divers get to figure it out.