Wildlife

The dogs of fire who can sniff out the malodorous whiff of arson

Fire investigation dog in action sniffing out the causes of suspicioius fires

In action: Roscoe, wearing protective boots, searches the scene of a fire. Image: London Fire Brigade

The Bexley police investigation into the huge industrial estate fire at Erith on Saturday morning is likely to have been assisted by the London Fire Brigade’s investigation dogs.

LFB’s four-legged friends are trained to sniff out the causes of fire.

The dog species has olfactory powers that are between 1,000 and 10,000 times more sensitive than the human nose.

All three together - Murphy, Roscoe and Sherlock

All three together – Murphy, Roscoe and Sherlock

The smelling circuit board of a dog’s brain is forty times the size of any human being.

In action: Sam, wearing protective boots, searches the scene of a fire.
In action: Sam, wearing protective boots, searches the scene of a fire.

Sherlock and Murphy are two members of the LFB dogs of fire investigators.

They may look like any other dog you pass in the street but they have the special arson buster talent along with the soon-to-be-retired Roscoe featured at the top of this article.

Roscoe is the veteran and like the others has been specially trained to identify a variety of ignitable substances.

They can help criminal investigators determine whether or not a fire has been started deliberately.

Their sense of smell is currently more accurate than any available technology.

Sherlock poses by a London Fire Brigade helmet during down time.

New recruit Sherlock poses by a London Fire Brigade helmet during down time.

The dog detectives have been able to help the LFB’s Fire Investigation Team provide a higher level of accuracy and improve the conviction rate against people who deliberately start fires.

They can work so quickly at picking out the pongs of foul ignition they have substantially reduced the time required to investigate fire scenes.

Here's Murphy, also a two-year-old Cocker Spaniel.

Here’s Murphy, also a two-year-old Cocker Spaniel

If nothing is found, FIT can focus on other sources of ignition.

How the dogs are trained.

  1. Selected at a young age based on their high drive for play.
  2. Follow a positive reinforcement based training programme, rewarding them with a tennis ball each time they detect an ignitable substance.
  3. Attending fire safety college to be tested on a number of disciplines, of varying difficulty.
  4. Examined on finding traces of a substance in: a single room; multiple rooms across multiple floors; hard to test areas such as letter boxes and under stairs.

Dog fire investigators’ tactics

  1. A soon as the LFB dogs have sniffed an ignitable substance they are trained to wait by their discovery for their handler’s next  instruction.
  2. When on operations dog investigators wear boots to protect their paws from shards of glass and other sharp objects.
  3. Dogs are never sent into ‘hot scenes’ and the LFB is insistant that ‘there has been no report of any injury to any fire dog, throughout the country, while working.’
  4. The LFB dogs are on active service for almost ten years.
  5. Once trained they attend annual training refreshers to ensure ‘they aren’t barking up the wrong tree,’ with incorrect substance identification.

Sherlock poses with fire investigation dogs from Hampshire Fire and Rescue and West Midlands Fire and Rescue
Sherlock poses with fire investigation dogs from Hampshire Fire and Rescue and West Midlands Fire and Rescue

For any dogs reading this posting….

Career prospects

  • LFB fire dogs all live with their respective handlers who, along with the Brigade, are responsible for their welfare needs.
  • While on duty, the Brigade provides facilities such as kennels and specially adapted transportation.
  • The LFB adheres to the guidance in Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act and take a number of steps to ensure care and protection including: providing a suitable diet; protecting them from pain, suffering and disease; and ensuring they exhibit normal behaviour.

Sam is a Labrador who retired after serving with the Brigade for seven years.

Sam is a Labrador who retired after serving with the Brigade for seven years.

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