TSA officer discovers smoking laptop, prevents fire at North Carolina airport

Thursday, March 18, 2021
Sanford Jennings photo


Earlier this year, when Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) TSA officer Sanford Jennings heard someone call out for assistance at the security checkpoint, his situational awareness, quick thinking and immediate action were on full display.

Damaged keyboard photo
The damaged laptop keyboard and melted battery section. (Photo by Darrell Gates)

When a laptop began to smoke in the area where passengers prepare their carry-ons to go through security, an officer called out for assistance. Jennings was working at the Advanced Imaging Technology position and quickly scanned the public facing area and calmly walked toward the smoking laptop and took charge. Everyone could see his prior military training start to present itself in his posture, and how he deliberately moved towards the smoking laptop.

Jennings immediately questioned the passenger, who stated that he had previously raised concerns to his company about the battery pack feeling as though it had been overheating.

Once he determined there was no immediate security threat, Jennings took control of the smoking laptop and walked the passenger out of the checkpoint to curbside, outside the terminal. He located a fire extinguisher and extinguished the smoking laptop as supervisory officer Rudolph Cataldo looked on after directing lead officer Tony Apple to notify the airport police.

Cataldo recalled Jennings’ actions saying, “[His] quick response led to the elimination of a potential threat near the screening area, with all coworkers and travelers remaining safely out of harm’s way.”

AFSD, FSD, TSO photo
North Carolina Assistant Federal Security Director Brian Hunter (left) and Federal Security Director Beth Walker present officer Stanford Jennings a certificate of appreciation and the state challenge coin. (Photo by Terrilan House)

During the debrief of the incident, Jennings mentioned, “having a rich background in real-world paramilitary operations and serving as the Incident Commander on numerous events.”

“The event justified a visual inspection of the traveler and surveillance of the surrounding area,” said Jennings. “After carefully accessing the potential threat to staff members and the traveling public, I found it necessary to quickly isolate what may or may not have been an intentional targeting of the screening checkpoint. In doing so, I observed the traveler's behaviors and actions to understand the probability of potential danger to myself after confirming the device had been rendered nonoperational.”

“Officer Sanford Jennings is a model officer who has attained the highest performance and skill levels while serving with integrity, respect and commitment,” said North Carolina Federal Security Director Beth Walker. “He displays professional pride throughout the course of his screening duties and maintains focus on ensuring security and safety, even when faced with a potentially serious situation.”

North Carolina Assistant Federal Security Director Brian Hunter neatly summarizes by saying, “TSA has leaders at every level, and Jennings is certainly one."