NOSE FOR ARSON: Izzy picks up where Joanie left off, Picayune gets new arson dog
Published 7:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2017
With a shiny black coat and a playful demeanor, the Picayune Fire Department’s new recruit was introduced to the community Monday.
Izzy and her handler, Picayune Fire Marshal Pat Weaver, were recently certified by the Maine State Police to investigate potential arson cases.
The pair spent 200 hours training together under a scholarship sponsored by State Farm Insurance Company, Weaver said.
Monday, Izzy had the opportunity to show State Farm agents and other community members what she could do when presented with an arson investigation.
Within seconds, Izzy was able to detect accelerants inside the training facility at the Picayune Fire Station One before receiving a food reward.
Most often, dogs trained as arson investigators used to be in a seeing-eye dog program, but for various reasons didn’t complete the training, Weaver said.
Other times arson dogs are adopted from a local animal shelter, he said.
Izzy joining the department comes with the retirement of Joanie, Weaver’s first arson dog, he said.
Joanie has been with the department since 2008 and has helped investigate a number of fires and perform demonstrations for local students, Weaver said.
“Joanie was an asset and a tool for us to use during any fire,” Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown said. “It’s a handful for Pat and I’m thankful he’s willing to take on the opportunity.”
Both Joanie and Izzy are black Labradors, a breed Weaver said is well-suited for the job due to their strong work ethic and desire to please their owner.
The dogs also live with Weaver, available at a moment’s notice in case of a fire, though they have been “adopted” by Dr. Kevin Smith, a local veterinarian who helps with their medical needs.
The state fire marshal also has an arson dog, but he covers five counties, so when an arson dog is needed, Weaver said he often travels across the state to help out.
With Joanie, he said he’s gone as far as Greene County near the Alabama line.
But just like Joanie, Izzy’s first mission is to sniff out accelerants, Brown said.
There is a large difference between a human’s capacity to smell and a dog’s, Weaver said. A dog can find evidence of accelerants in a matter of minutes, while humans can only guess, Weaver said.
Once Izzy picks up the scent, she’ll sit down and look at Weaver, signaling the location of an accelerant, he said.
As part of their training, arson dogs only eat when they’ve successfully detected an accelerant, Weaver has said previously. That means the dogs train every day.
Arson dogs are typically brought to every structure fire as a way to keep them comfortable around the ashes and other distractions, Brown said.
State Farm has been involved in the program since 1993, State Farm Public Affairs and Media Relations Representative Roszell Gadson said.
As of April, there were 96 active arson investigation teams in the U.S. and Canada trained through the State Farm program, Roszell said.
Every year, State Farm chooses fire departments and law enforcement agencies from across the country that have applied for the program based on the need in each community, Gadson said.