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Health, Science & Tech

Nothing Is Where It's Supposed To Be: Why Nancy 'Loves' Investigating Explosions

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA
Nancy Love, scientist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, is one of very few women to have the title of "post-blast investigator." She says she took on the certificate to challenge herself.

If there’s an explosion in Allegheny County, Nancy Love is ready to investigate.

Love has worked nearly two decades with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office Trace Division evaluating evidence from explosions and trying to determine what chemicals were involved.

90.5 WESA’s Katie Blackley talked to Love about why she loves being a post-blast investigator and what it's like being one of the only women in her specialty.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

KATIE BLACKLEY: Is it difficult being one of so few women in your field?

NANCY LOVE: With fires and explosion scenes, it is a bit of a boys club and maybe initially I felt that that was a challenge. I felt like I had to prove myself more. I don't feel that so much anymore. Sometimes it's still there, but I have more confidence in what I can do. So, if you don't think that I can do it because I'm a female, I'm probably just going to want to prove you wrong.

BLACKLEY: Why do you like explosions?

LOVE: I started my job as an environmental scientist and I got real bored so I moved to our trace section and I do different things all the time. And I ended up going to fire and explosion scenes and it turned out that I really enjoyed them. They were challenging.

BLACKLEY: Why are those fire and explosion scenes more challenging?

LOVE: Because nothing is where it's supposed to be. I'm on our regular mobile crime unit, so we handle burglaries, homicides. And when they happen, generally the scene is as how it was. If it was a house, it’s still a house. It's a fire and explosion, it might be a house all over the neighborhood or maybe a house that's all in the basement.

BLACKLEY: Can you maybe talk about some of your most interesting cases or some of the most common cases that you see?

LOVE: Luckily or unluckily, we don’t get a whole lot of explosions here in southwestern Pennsylvania. Most of the things we do see are natural gas explosions. Most of those are accidental, but sometimes we get called out because you don’t know why it started. So, if it’s a criminal investigation, then we’re already there and that stuff is being taken care of.

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Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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90.5 WESA

BLACKLEY: What’s your favorite part of your job?

LOVE: I think my favorite part is doing something different all the time. I work in a section that affords me that luxury, since I work in the trace section. We cover pretty much anything that isn’t guns or drugs or fingerprints or DNA. So if it doesn’t fit into one of those, we deal with it. And I do like field work, I like getting out—it gives you a different perspective on the items you see in the lab.

BLACKLEY: Is it anything like TV?

LOVE: No (laughs). Maybe, like, for a minute. Everything takes way longer. So there’s a lot of paperwork that goes along with all of the work that you see on TV. They don’t show them sitting at their desk for a few hours writing a report or making a sketch or any of the things that are really kind of boring. It’s not nearly as glamorous. At least the things that I do are different all the time so I don’t get bored—I might get frustrated, but I don’t get bored. But I do enjoy what I do.