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Arson dogs sniff out accelerants at fire scenes

Posted at 6:59 PM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 19:59:56-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Every year arson dogs must pass recertification. K-9s Alley and Gibson with the Omaha and Council Bluffs Fire Departments, respectively, passed with wagging tails this year.

The dogs are used as an addition to the fire teams and sniff out accelerants such as gasoline and lighter fluid that may have been used to intentionally set fires.

"We use the canines because their nose is so much stronger. It’s well over 100 times stronger than our nose. They can pinpoint the accelerant much more accurately than we can. When we often dig a fire without a canine we’re looking at burn patterns just to see where it’s at then we may take a sample based on our knowledge of those burn patterns. With a canine they’re actually pinpointing it within a small radius of an area, maybe just inches from an accelerant source,"says Dan Roberts of the Council Bluffs Fire Department.

The dogs are furry assets to the firefighter's tool boxes.

"The canine doesn’t make the investigator any smarter or any dumber. The canine is a tool in our tool box. We don’t have to pull a canine out at every fire scene we work, however there are times that fires are set up to look like an accident so to an investigator it may look like an accidental fire scene," David Sobotka with the Omaha Fire Department says.

Once a year they get evaluated for recertification, to ensure that they're doing their drills correctly.

"All of those teams must re-certify each year and that’s important not only to monitor that they are conducting their training drills appropriately but they also do blind tests and that certification is critical when you are presented with evidence in a court of law," says Heather Paul, the State Farm Arson Dog program coordinator.

Before becoming arson dogs, the pups in the program were training to become guide dogs. They didn't quite make it in disability assistance school so they got a career change.

"They were originally raised to be disability assistance dogs. We call them career change which actually just means they flunked out of guide dog school or disability assistance school. They didn’t have the right job for their personalities and drive," Paul says.

Roberts and Sobotka say their furry friends are not just great fire fighters but part of the family.