Going to the DOGS Safely
How to handle unfriendly dogs threatening fire fighters is described in a training bulletin issued by the division of training of the New York Fire Department.
The bulletin, prepared by Captain F. C. Sickles, explains how the three classifications of dogs, security dogs, house dogs and household pets, may react to the entry of fire fighters on their premises and how fire fighters can try to avoid being attacked and bitten.
Security dogs included three types, attack dogs that are trained to attack anyone entering their area except their trainer, watchdogs that will bark but not attack, and command dogs that will attack only at a trainer’s command. These dogs, the bulletin points out, are dangerous when a fire fighter enters their area, which they may not leave.
Watchdogs can be dangerous
House dogs trained as watchdogs will generally attack any stranger entering the premises and can be just as dangerous as security dogs when protecting their master’s property. However, loud commands and threatening gestures can sometimes intimidate them and they will usually leave the property during a fire, the bulletin points out.
Dogs that are household pets, the bulletin continues, are generally untrained. Although they will bark, they ordinarily are not a problem. However, all dogs should be considered unpredictable in a fire situation.
Fire fighters are told to look for signs warning of the presence of security dogs and to wear full turnout clothing with boots pulled up, eyeshields in position, collars turned up and gloves on. The objective is to provide as much protection as possible against a dog bite so that if a dog does bite a fire fighter, the dog’s teeth will be less likely to puncture the man’s skin.
When dog bites
If a dog bites a fire fighter, the bulletin states, the dog should be held for examination for rabies. If the dog cannot be found, then the bite victim will have to take rabies shots. Fire fighters are warned that the dog they encounter when entering the premises may not be the only dog on the property. Anyone who is bitten must be immediately taken to the nearest hospital for treatment of the wound.
If a security-dog warning sign has a phone number and there is no indication of fire or smoke on the premises, then the number should be called to summon a handler to take care of the dog while fire companies check out the property. The companies that provide security dogs usually maintain a 24-hour emergency response service.
Smoke and fire, the New York training bulletin advises, will affect the normal behavior of dogs and their instinct for survival may cause them to run from the fire area. It is advisable to give dogs in a fire situation a means of escape. However, fire fighters should remain alert to the possibility that a dog that has fled may return some time later.
Use of extinguishers
One way to detect a dog’s presence is to shake a door vigorously, which will make the dog bark or even claw the door. The door should be opened slowly and if the dog appears to be dangerous, the bulletin advises, it can be kept at a distance by using a pressurized water or carbon dioxide extinguisher. The extinguisher stream should be directed at the dog’s face and brief bursts from the extinguisher can back a dog into another room or even entirely out of the area.
While sometimes a dog can be intimated by loud, authoritative commands, a dog that remains aggressive can be handled by holding out to him a chair or hand tool, such as a pike pole, that he can bite.
“Offer resistance to the bite,” the bulletin suggests. “Often the dog will hang on, giving you a chance to call for assistance or to move to safety.”
In any of these methods of confronting an aggressive dog, “a charged hose line should be used as a backup,” the New York fire fighters are told.
Hose stream for protection
In places such as junk yards, use of a water stream is recommended as the safest way to approach an aggressive dog. If a dry line is being advanced toward a fire, a booster line stream can be used for protection, the bulletin suggests.
In New York City, two police emergency units carry tranquilizer guns for subduing animals and the fire department dispatcher can be asked to call for one of the units when the situation demands this method of control. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also has a handler and a truck on call 24 hours a day in New York City.
The bulletin cautions that the “use of hand tools, appliances, or in the extreme, requesting police assistance to have the dog destroyed, is considered only as a last resort when the civilians’ or fire fighters’ safety is involved.”
Avoid killing dog
The bulletin points out that not only is this “an inhumane act,” but also that an injured dog can become more vicious. In addition, fire fighters are cautioned that a professionally trained security dog represents a considerable investment of money and “it is poor public relations to destroy valuable property.”
The security dog problem is defined as a problem that has to be solved locally. The New York bulletin calls on deputy chiefs to establish a program to request property owners to post warning signs where security dogs are present and to put on the signs a phone number to call to get aid in handling the dog. It should be determined where dogs will be on the premises and whether a handler is always on the property or readily available. Efforts should be made to learn where security dogs are used and the information should be included in pre-fire plans or other data storage.
The bulletin concludes by saying, “It is impossible to say how a particular breed or type of dog will react under fire conditions. Therefore, judgment, extreme caution, prior planning and quick thinking are a fireman’s best tools.”