The State Fire Marshal’s Office often uses trained dogs to–literally–sniff out the cause of a fire.
“Dogs’ noses are extremely extremely sensitive, even more so than a lab instrument a lot of times,” said Josh Hobbs, chief of the Fire and Explosion Investigation Bureau for the state marshal’s office.
“An investigator determines that he has an identifiable burn pattern. That may lead him to believe that there has been an ignitable liquid used to set the fire, or facilitate the fire,” he said. “So, the dog is brought in a lot of times to help confirm that.”
The dog will call attention to the area where ignitable liquid was used, and gives the investigator a good idea where to collect a sample. Plus, the dog adds an extra level of coverage in the investigation.
“In a very high profile situation, in a case where it is very very paramount that a positive sample be obtained, then those canines come in as a valuable tool to help the investigator,” Hobbs said. “…we use them a lot of times, almost standard on a fatal fire.”
The canines can help to rule out things in the case of a fatal fire. The training for these dogs is a year-round job, requiring work every single day.
“These dogs are food reward dogs,” Hobbs said. “So they have to be trained three times a day, every day, in order to be fed.”
That means nearly 1,100 training sessions per year.
While the dogs belong to the state or other agency, they spend their lives with their handlers.
“They are part of the family; they adjust to the family life,” Hobbs said. “They play with the kids like any other pet would. However, they are a working dog so, food bowls and things like that have to be watched.”
The workload is daily for these dogs, helping with fire investigations all over the state.
“When we need the canine is when we have a fire pattern that an ignitable liquid is being used but that odor is not present,” Hobbs explained. “You have to get some confirmation. The dog will actually give you some pretty good confirmation of what you are thinking.”