Fire departments and dogs have been working together for a couple centuries or more. Historically, Dalmatians were known for their ability to clear the way for the horse-drawn fire wagons. In modern times, working dogs still play a very important, but different, role in fire departments across the country.
Arson Dogs sniff out accelerants left behind at fire scenes. These hard-working detection dogs perform important work with their fire investigation handlers. They’re taught to sift through the remains of suspicious fires, smelling for trace amounts of common fire-starting substances like gasoline or lighter fluid. When an arson dog encounters a substance they’ve been trained to detect, they sit next to the source of the scent in order to alert their handler to its presence.
Arson Dogs can be any breed of dog with a lot of food or toy drive. Usually, though, arson dogs come from the retriever or sporting dog groups, which includes popular breeds like the Labrador Retriever, German Shorthaired Pointer, and several types of working spaniels. There are hundreds of arson dogs at work in the States today, with many of them provided to fire departments by the State Farm Arson Dog Training Program.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Search and Rescue Dogs search for lost or missing people in wilderness, urban, and disaster environments. Fire departments often employ Search and Rescue Dogs to help them find or recover missing people more quickly. Some teams, like the Phoenix Fire Department in Arizona, are certified as a FEMA Task Force, and their search dogs work worldwide during urban disasters.
Search and Rescue Dogs are usually medium or large dogs who possess a lot of stamina, drive, and good temperaments. Labradors, Border Collies, and German Shepherds excel at search and rescue work.
Tracking Dogs follow scent trails left on the ground by wandering people. These specialized scent work dogs excel at recovering people on foot, whether or not they want to be found. When the trail is fresh, a tracking dog can follow it through a variety of terrains, including urban ones like concrete or asphalt. Some tracking dogs can follow trails that are weeks or months old.
Fire departments commonly use tracking dogs to help recover lost children or missing elderly people. Bloodhound are the most well-known tracking dogs, but Labradors, German Shepherds, and other working dog breeds often perform the job well.
Crisis Response Canines
Crisis Response Canines are a type of therapy dog. These unique dogs work during disasters to help first responders and survivors decompress and recover. Some fire departments keep them on staff, but others have volunteer teams they partner with to provide crisis relief services.
Crisis Response Canines must be calm and well trained, with a good temperament and an inherent love of people. Most units require certification from a recognized organization, such as HOPE Animal-Assistance Crisis Response.
Fire Safety Dog / Mascot
Everyone needs a mascot, and fire deparments are no different! Thousands of fire departments around the country have a firehouse dog on staff. These well-loved canines live at the firehourse and are cared for the departments firemen. Many of them are trained as Fire Safety Dogs, and they travel to schools and events showing off fun skills like “Stop, Drop, and Roll!”