Every time a Calgary firefighter recruit went up to receive his CFD cap badge at the graduation ceremony last week, Gibbs, a 21 month old black Labrador would give a yelp in congratulations. Or maybe he was just excited as he waited for his turn.
On December 5th, the Calgary Fire Department’s two accelerant detection canines, including Gibbs, were presented their badges by Calgary Fire Chief Bruce Burrell. The dogs were included in the ceremony so they could be officially welcomed as members of the CFD.
“He did seem pretty happy to graduate,” said Tony Bund, Gibbs’ handler and CFD Fire Investigator. “He did really well and going up on the stage to receive his badge, so I am proud of him.”
Honey, who graduated alongside Gibbs, has been working as a fire investigations dog since joining CFD in May 2012. Thanks to a scholarship from State Farm Insurance, both Honey and Gibbs completed a five-week specialized accelerant detection training in Maine, USA. The State Farm scholarship includes the dog, training costs and also the of travel costs of the handlers – CFD Fire Investigators Brad McDonald (Honey) and Tony Bund (Gibbs).
After training, the dogs are certified to detect a fire accelerant, by pointing to it with their nose and then sitting down beside it. Now 21 months old, Gibbs has been on the job for just over three months and been to more than 11 fire scenes to investigate, while Honey has been to more than 110 fire scenes. Together, they have detected more than 95 accelerants.
Because their noses are 20 times more sensitive the working dogs can detect fire accelerants more quickly and accurately than human investigators or technology, so they are a great help to the CFD Fire Investigations team. In the past three years, the CFD has responded to more than 1,600 fires and approximately 20 per cent of those are intentionally set, or the cause of arsonists. Because they work so quickly and accurately, they have saved fire investigators a lot of time. Ultimately the work they do helps to determine how arsonists have carried out their crimes so they can be caught and prevented from hurting anyone.
After training is complete and the dogs are certified, they not only work with their handlers, but also go home and live with them. To help with caring for the loyal animals, their food, veterinary care and transportation are provided by Encana and the City of Calgary’s Animal and Bylaw Services. Encana’s support includes a natural-gas powered pick-up truck and all its fuel, to help transport the dogs wherever they need to go.