Since 1993, the State Fire Marshal's Office has called on man's "best friend" to help in its investigations. Canine teams help determine the presence of ignitable liquids, such as gasoline, at fire scenes.
A canine handler and dog work together as a team. When they arrive at a fire scene, the canine handler and investigating officer discuss probable causes and areas of the scene that should be searched. The handler takes the dog through a fire scene once the smoke has cleared and the hot spots have died down. The handler and dog get familiar with the site during their first walk through the remains. The handler puts the dog on-command during the next walk through to smell for accelerants that may be present.
The dogs are trained to be passive alert. That means once the dog senses the site of a possible accelerant, the dog will sit down and not move from the site until rewarded and told to do so. The handler will mark the site and continue the search.
For their work, the dogs are rewarded with a toy or ball. They are allowed to work unleashed.
The bond between handler and canine is strong. Each canine handler keeps his dog at home and the two are close traveling companions when called to a fire scene. Working with the specially trained dogs requires dedication on behalf of the handler. The canines are trained for several months before meeting the handlers.
Once they are paired, the team begins an intensive five-week training course and remains together. Dog and handler are in constant contact. All of the dogs in the SFMO's canine unit hold certifications for accelerants from the North American Police Work Dog Association and the State Fire Marshal's Office. They are re-certified annually.