30 April 2006

Firefighter Jay joins the Dog Watch

Scotsman

STUART NICOLSON
29 April 2006

A DOG that can sniff out whether fires have been started deliberately has become Scotland's first four-legged firefighter.

Jay the Border Collie has been trained to detect fire accelerants such as petrol, paraffin and white spirit, which are often used by fire-raisers to maliciously start blazes.

The three-year-old is now being used by Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service to search quickly for evidence of foul play after the flames have been brought under control.

He has even been kitted out with special fire-resistant Kevlar boots to protect his paws when working at the scene of a fire.

Jay received specially adapted training by police dog handlers, who taught him to detect hydrocarbons - present in most flammable liquids - instead of drugs.

His nose is so sensitive that police say he can pick out a fire-raiser from a group of people by smelling tiny traces of match sulphur on their clothes.

Douglas Dick, station officer at the brigade's Falkirk HQ, said that he was confident the dog would prove a valuable weapon in the fight against arsonists.

He added: "Jay can search large areas for evidence of things like petrol or paraffin in a matter of minutes when it would have taken a team of human officers several hours in the past.

"His sense of smell is 1,000 times stronger than ours, so he can detect suspicious substances from quite a distance away.

"If petrol has been poured through the letterbox before a house fire, for example, Jay will spot it immediately," he said.

"He then sits down next to the substance he has found and waits for his handler to take a sample of it for analysis." Mr Dick said the fire brigade was keen to ensure Jay was properly protected - like ordinary human firefighters.

"We have issued him with special boots to protect his paws because the ground at a fire scene can obviously be hot and covered in broken glass.

"He doesn't like the boots much, but I wouldn't allow any of my other officers to enter a fire scene without the proper protection - and Jay is no different. He's a really friendly dog and the guys love having him around. Jay is the first fire dog in Scotland, and I know several other brigades are watching him with interest."

Jay was intended for a mountain rescue team before enlisting with the fire service. He now lives with handler Trevor Lynch, who has been a retained firefighter at Larbert for 14 years.

Mr Lynch said Jay would also be used to educate youngsters about the dangers of deliberately starting fires.

He said: "There were 209 wilful fire-raising incidents in the brigade area last year which caused £3.3 million damage.

"The target group for tackling wilful fire-raising is normally from the age of 11 to 17 years old. One of the things we will be doing is going to schools with Jay to educate pupils about the dangers of deliberately starting fires."

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