09 December 2015

When it comes to fire investigation, a nose for a key clue seems to run in the family…or so Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service has found with its three generations of ‘fire dogs’.

The service is now celebrating the fact that its most recent recruit, 15-month-old black Labrador, Willow, has recently passed her training.

Willow’s grandmother Millie (now retired) was the first dog taken on as a puppy just over 10 years ago, and Millie’s daughter Maysie (now aged seven) is also currently employed in fire investigation work.

Investigation dogs

Suspected arson

Fire investigation dogs attend any fire where arson is believed to be the cause, and their job is to sniff out ignitable liquids that might have been used to start a blaze.

Fire Investigation Officer Ian Walpole, who has trained and looked after each of the dogs since they were born, is proud of his dogs’ achievements.

He said: “Fire dogs have been used in the UK for nearly 20 years now, but in 2004 the Fire Services Act placed a statutory obligation on fire services to investigate and reduce the number of fires.

“On the basis of this, it was identified that the fire investigation search dogs could be a significant contributory factor to carrying out this work.”

Highly trained

The dogs are all highly trained at investigating fire scenes, surrounding areas, clothing and cars. They locate the tiny traces that are left behind linking a suspect to the scene of the crime.

Risk assessments are done at fire scenes before the dogs are sent in, and their feet are adorned with protective coverings.

Training a dog in the skills of fire investigation takes up to six months and is based on the dog's high play drive. They are rewarded through praise and play with a tennis ball.

Employing fire investigation dogs has had a significant impact on the fire service’s work, according to Ian.

“We work very closely with the police and previously had to take speculative samples which would be sent for analysis. The work of the dogs now identifies the best samples, reducing the number of samples taken and saving considerable money.

“A fire scene is a very alien environment to a dog so, right from a puppy, I take them to incidents so they will get used to the noise, smell and sights associated with firefighting operations.

“Both Mille and Maysie have done the fire service proud in the investigation work they have carried out. I think that Willow will definitely follow in the footsteps of the more senior members in her family."