Firefighter Training, Firefighting

Canines in the Fire Service–A Petroleum Expert, By Lauren Keyson

By Lauren Keyson

This month’s featured dog is Canto, a 16-month-old German Shepard from the Greenville Fire Department in Westchester, New York. His handler, Captain Gus Spedaliere, said, “In the grand scheme of things, the dog is a tool; but to me he’s a partner.” Canto, still a rookie, will get a badge this month when he has finished his training.

Canto has been trained to find ignitable mixtures when the scene is considered cold. He is sent to in locate possible areas of accelerants-gasoline, alcohol, acetone, turpentine, and all petroleum. “He got the okay to hit the street last week,” said Spedaliere, “but he still needs to get certified by another trainer so we can say that two people saw him work. It’s better for court purposes.”

A dog may be used in an investigation only if a serious injury or death has occurred or if the damage is significant. Sometimes, the criterion for damages is an established monetary value-in the state of New York, for example, the minimum is $250,000.

Previously, the Greenville Fire Department had a yellow Labrador named Kane that worked for 9-1/2 years. He assisted with the conviction of eight arsonists and saved insurance companies in excess of $1.5 million in fraudulent payments. That’s one of the reasons the department decided to repeat the program after Kane retired in 2000.

A dog definitely makes the fire investigator’s job easier. It might take four to five hours to find something in a room 30 feet by 30 feet. “You send the dog in there, and he can give you an idea in a couple of minutes,” said Spedaliere. “Then it’s up to the investigators to find out if what the dog found was actually planted there, or if it was indigenous to the scene. In other words, if he goes into a garage, guess what he’s going to find? Gasoline for the lawnmower, oil for the car. It’s up to the investigator to sift through the evidence and decide if the fire was intentional.”

Canto was trained by Frank Pomplio, Beacon Police Canine Trainer. By the end of the year, the dog will also have some rescue capabilities. He has been taught to track, and could locate a lost child in the woods or live people in a small collapse. Canto is nonaggressive and very shy. “He’s a big mush,” said Spedaliere, “but he does his work when he has to.”

If you have a dog with special skills for us to feature, please e-mail Lauren Keyson at [email protected].