Baton Rouge hosts national arson dogs recertification program

Baton Rouge hosts national arson dogs recertification program
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Dogs trained to help cut back on a crime that costs United States homeowners billions of dollars each year are being tested in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office is hosting a re-certification program for dogs trained to detect trace amounts of ignitable liquids at fire scenes.

The dogs that enter the St. George Fire Department fire training house on Airline Highway are trained to pick up accelerants in fire investigations. Paul Gallaher, an instructor with Maine Specialty Dogs, is tested the skills and accuracy of 40 dogs from across the country.

"It's a lot of work. We spend probably three months getting these dogs conditioned before they start school," Gallaher said.

The dogs comb several spaces looking for planted evidence. Some rooms are blank. Others have one or two d rops of training aids they must find. If they do not alert their handlers, they fail. If they do, they get to eat. In fact, handler Donnie Vinson said it is the only time the dogs are fed.

"They all work over a scent every day. There's no give them a bowl of food, pet them. It's all work," Vinson said.

The handlers said the dogs never go hungry. Their noses are constantly working.

Vinson said since the Cookeville Fire Department in Tennessee began using accelerant detection dogs, his department has seen a big d rop in arson crimes.

"My department was one of the lucky ones 19 years ago to get a dog, and now we are on our third one," Vinson said.

Louisiana has four of them. Louisiana State Fire Captain Keith Reed said the dogs have helped fire investigators save time and solve more cases.

"They are helping you find if any accelerants are used in the structure. So they can cut down your investigation time by an hour, two hours, or three hours depending on how big the structure is that you are investigating," Reed said.

It is why the insurance company State Farm backs the program. Spokesman Roszell Gadson said the company provided trained dogs to fire districts because it helps cut crime and also cuts cost to its customers.

"We have found that communities that have arson dogs, typically, there's a bigger deterrent as far as people going out and committing those crimes," Gadson said.

Each year the four-legged investigators are put to the test to make sure they have it takes to be a successful crime fighting tool. State Farm has an estimated 90 arson dogs working across the nation.

They must go through re-certification every year.

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