Category Archives: Blog
It’s a Cinderella story. Abandoned by her family in 2009 in McLean County, IL a stray Labrador retriever named Ellie – and later renamed Kai – dug determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.
That single-minded focus saved her life.
The State Farm Arson Dog Program trains new teams each year during a spring class and a fall class. From April 13 – May 9, eight handlers trained in Alfred, Maine with their new canine partners. Some of the handlers were new to canine handling while others were experienced handlers but they were all excited to meet and bond with their dogs. Meet the newest arson dog teams from the 2014 spring training class!
Detective David Young – Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office (Jacksonville, FL) – Detective Young was first introduced to an arson K-9 in 1992 during a training burn that was being conducted. That encounter set him on the path to becoming a state fire marshal. It took a lot of work but Detective Young is now an arson dog handler and has been working with his partner, K-9 Fresca, since they were certified in May 2014. They are investigating fires throughout the Jacksonville area.
Fire Investigator Thomas Domes – Trumbull County Fire & Explosion Unit (Warren, OH) – Investigator Domes has been with the Trumbull County Fire/Explosion Investigation Unit since June 2011. Prior to that, he was a Lieutenant and EMT with Mecca Township Fire Department in Cortland, OH. Tom worked closely with retired arson dog handler Chief Matt Balut in preparation for his new role as an arson dog handler. Chief Balut worked with his partner K-9 Hydra from April 2002 until she passed away September 2013. Investigator Domes has been working with his partner, K-9 Trace, since they were certified in May 2014. They are investigating fires throughout northeastern Ohio.
Deputy State Fire Marshal John Galaska – Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office (Georgetown, DE) – Deputy Fire Marshal Galaska is an experienced arson dog handler who first trained as the secondary (back-up) handler for Deputy Fire Marshal and K-9 Sparks. K-9 Sparks has been investigating fires in Delaware since May 2008 until his retirement this year. K-9 Sparks was also nominated in the Arson Dog category for the 2014 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. With the retirement of K-9 Sparks, John has now become the primary handler for K-9 Tanya, a 2 ½ year old enthusiastic female black lab. Deputy Fire Marshal Galaska and K-9 Tanya became certified in May 2014. They are investigating fires throughout the State of Delaware.
Firefighter Matt Jones – Paris Fire Department (Paris, TX) – Firefighter Jones has worked in the fire service for the past four years. Before starting his career with the Paris Fire Department, Matt worked as a vet tech for eight years. He then moved into emergency medicine working at an animal ER, and ended up getting his paramedic certification and eventually into the fire service. Firefighter Jones went through four weeks of training in Maine and is partnered with K-9 Sadie, a two year old female yellow lab mix since they became certified in May 2014. They are investigating fires through the northeast Texas region.
Arson Investigator Greg Vespa – Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office (Belleville, IL) – Arson Investigator Vespa has been working for the Illinois State Fire Marshal since 2006 and was first trained as an arson dog handler through the ATF Arson K-9 program in 2007. Investigator Vespa had the honor of working with two accelerant detection canines before joining the State Farm Arson Dog Program. He is now partnered with K-9 Rocky, a two year old male yellow lab since they became certified in May 2014. They are investigating fires throughout southeastern Illinois, including the East St. Louis area.
Arson Investigator Sean Reddy – Providence Fire Department (Providence, RI) – Arson Investigator Reddy has been on the Providence Fire Department for 27 years, serving the last 5 years as an Arson Investigator. Following their four weeks of training in Maine, Investigator Reddy and his partner, K-9 Tyler, were certified as an arson dog team in May 2014. They will investigate fires throughout Rhode Island.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Roman Ray – Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office (Alexandria, LA) – Deputy Fire Marshal Ray has been in Law Enforcement as a Police Officer for three years and recently started his new career as a Louisiana State Fire Marshal Deputy. He has always been interested in working with a canine partner since starting his law enforcement career and now that dream has come true. Deputy Fire Marshal Ray is working with his new partner, K-9 Billy, since they became certified in May 2014. They will investigate fires in the Alexandria area of Louisiana.
Agent Jerry Means – Colorado Bureau of Investigation (Denver, CO) – Agent Means is certainly no stranger to the arson dog program. His first canine partner was K-9 Erin and they were a team from August 2000 until April 2007. K-9 Erin passed away in May 2007. His second canine partner was K-9 Sadie and they were investigating fires throughout Colorado from May 2007 until her retirement in April 2014. K-9 Sadie was also the winner of the Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category for the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards in 2011.
With gallant cowboys, rotten scoundrels, and plenty of good bar brawls, the Wild West has long been portrayed as rugged andlawless. There may be no state that has a richer history than Kansas when it comes to the timeless struggle between lawman and outlaw. Infamous lawmen such as James “Wild Bill” Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and William Barclay “Bat” Masterson valiantly worked to keep the residents of Kansas safe. Dodge City, Kansas was even the setting of the long-running radio and television series Gunsmoke. The series followed the adventures of fictional U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon as he dealt with gunfighters, cattle rustlers, and other criminals while enforcing the law in the city. The tradition of courageous law enforcement continues even today thanks to the amazing arson dog teams of Kansas.
Fire Investigator Don Birmingham – Wichita Fire Department (Wichita, KS)
K-9 Ashley (April 1993 – 1999; passed away September 2001)
Investigator Don Birmingham with the Wichita Fire Department met his canine partner Ashley in April 1993 during the second State Farm Arson Dog Program training school. During their six year career together, Don and K-9 Ashley worked 161 fire scenes that resulted in 33 felony arrests for arson, aggravated arson and homicide.
K-9 Ashley enjoyed two years of retirement before passing away on September 11, 2001. Her contributions to Wichita did not end there. In December 2009, the Wichita Board of Park Commissioners unanimously approved the naming of Arson Canine Ashley’s Memorial Dog Park in Chapin Park, in recognition for the service she gave to the city and the Wichita Fire Department as the first accelerant detection canine in the city. Arson Canine Ashley’s Memorial Dog Park is located at 2400 East MacArthur Road in Wichita.
Fire Marshal Brad Henson – Olathe Fire Department (Olathe, KS)
K-9 Doogie (May 2000 – 2006; passed away January 2009)
Fire Marshal Brad Henson and K-9 Doogie were a successful accelerant detection canine team for the Olathe Fire Department. Doogie was a chocolate lab found in an animal shelter and when Fire Marshal Henson was first paired with his new canine partner, he didn’t know what to expect. By the time K-9 Doogie passed away in January 2009 at the age of thirteen, the duo had investigated more than 200 fires.
Chief Fire Investigator Rose Rozmiarek – Kansas State Fire Marshal (Topeka, KS)
K-9 Tana (August 2010 – current)
The State Farm Arson Dog Program did not have a canine team working in the capital city of Topeka since Robert Hillebert and K-9 Holmes investigated fires for the Topeka Fire Department from 1996 until 2000. After a 10 year gap, that all changed. In August 2010, Chief Fire Investigator Rose Rozmiarek with the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office traveled to Maine and trained with her new partner, Tana. Born in California and raised by a military family, Tana was a year old when she began accelerant detection service.
Even though Rose and K-9 Tana are headquartered in Topeka, their case assignments take them throughout the state of Kansas. Their work has resulted in several convictions, including a recent case that resulted in the conviction of a 26 year old man for the murder of his wife, aggravated arson, and endangering a child by setting their own house on fire. While holding his child in his arms, the man set his house on fire, resulting in the death of his wife and severe burns to his child. The child endured months of treatment for 2nd and 3rd degree burns, far away from his family and without his mother at his side to offer him comfort. Tana found the evidence that led to an aggravated arson conviction.
In June 2012, Rose and K-9 Tana traveled with sculptor Austin Weishel, State Farm, American Humane Association, and Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Jerry Means with K-9 Sadie as they toured the country with the National Fire Dog Monument. The group made stops in state capitals as they drove the monument from Colorado to Washington DC for final placement. The monument celebrates the commitment that accelerant detection canines and their handlers make in keeping their communities safe and was formally dedicated in October 2013.
Besides investigating fires, Tana conducts demonstrations and promotes fire safety. She works with children during fire prevention week and is a regular at Kansas State Fair Emergency Preparedness Day events. At home Tana enjoys playing fetch and spending time with her other animal family members. In fact, the incredible work of K-9 Tana has resulted in her nomination for the 2014 American Humane Association Hero Dog Award in the Arson Dog category. First round voting for the AHA Hero Dog Awards runs through June 6, 2014.
Fire Investigator Kris Smyth – Kansas State Fire Marshal (Scott City, KS)
K-9 Scout (August 2011 – current)
The Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office added a second team to their arson investigation unit in August 2011. Fire Investigator Kris Smyth traveled to Alfred, ME and began training with his new canine partner Scout. Investigator Smyth and K-9 Scout investigate fires throughout the western half of the State of Kansas, including the historic towns of the Wild West. Investigator Smyth and K-9 Scout are popular attractions at school demonstrations and at the Kansas State Fair Emergency Preparedness Day events.
The Washington Post celebrated March Madness with a special championship, one that focused on monuments rather than basketball. “Monument Madness” pitted the top monuments in the Washington DC area in four voting regions: Presidents and Founding Fathers; War and Peace; Arts and Sciences; and a grab-bag category called “What the Heck is That?” The voting committee settled on three ground rules for the brackets: the memorial must be outdoors; it must be honorary, not just a sculpture; and it can’t be in a cemetery.With big players such as the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and U.S. Marine Corp War Memorial it was going to be an interesting competition.
The National Fire Dog Monument, created by sculptor Austin Weishel and dedicated in October 2013 to all accelerant detection canine teams, was placed in the “What the Heck is That” category and made it into the Sweet 16 where it was pitted up against Roscoe the Rooster.
After two hard fought weeks, it was down to two monuments that could take the title as best monument in DC. The National SeaBee Memorial is located in Arlington National Cemetery and celebrates the heroic acts by the Navy Construction Battallion. With generations of supporters and military veterans, the Finals proved to be an epic battle. After the NFDM fell behind by 600 votes early in the competition, it looked like it was all over for the underdog NFDM. A late evening rally changed everything and in the end, the Nataional Fire Dog Monument was able to overcome a serious deficit and win by 900 votes!!
The win wouldn’t have been possible without the support from State Farm employees, American Humane Association, Victoria Stilwell, Gabe to the Rescue, Elle the Pit Bull, and everyone associated with the State Farm Arson Dog Program. In the end, both memorials/monuments won because it raised awareness about both programs/groups.
If you are an animal lover like me, I was very excited to hear that there is a new radio program for the Pet Life Radio Network called Be Humane™ with Dr. Robin Ganzert. Each week, the President and CEO of American Humane Association (AHA), one of the nation’s most respected animal charities, shares the latest news and issues affecting our four-legged friends. American Humane Association’s own highly knowledgeable staff members will also appear on the show, with tales of their work in the field helping to protect animals from cruelty, abuse, and neglect. Each show will center around a theme of spreading compassion, caring, and hope for the country’s billions of animals. Such a positive message!
Imagine how thrilled I was when AHA contacted both myself and Paul Gallagher, Owner and Head Trainer for Maine Specialty Dogs, the appear on the radio program recently to talk about the State Farm Arson Dog Program! Dr. Ganzert was such a delight to talk to about State Farm sponsoring the Hero Dog Awards Arson Dog category. Did you know there are 18 TEAMS nominated in the category?! Don’t forget to vote each day for your Hero Dog at www.herodogawards.org.
Paul talked about his background with the Maine State Police and the Maine Criminal Justice Academy as a canine trainer. He also talked about how important the bond is between handler and canine, including the fact that our arson dogs live in the house with the handler and their family, go on vacation with them, and continue to live with the handler when the dog retires. I talked about State Farm’s sponsorship of the training program and how over the past two decades we have funded the acquisition and training of more than 325 arson dog teams across North America.
The State of Ohio is known for celebrating and embracing heroes. From the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where heroes of the gridiron are recognized for their feats on the field, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where heroes of the stage are celebrated, Ohio loves to shine a spotlight on the fabulous and fantastic. Even the first comic book superhero – SUPERMAN – was created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born American artist Joe Shuster in 1932 while both were living in Cleveland, Ohio! In keeping with this theme, I have chosen to recognize the four-legged heroes of Ohio and their incredible sidekicks…I mean handlers.
Fire Investigator Steve Claytor – Green Township Fire & EMS (Cincinnati, OH)
K-9 Sammy (1994 – April 2001; passed away 2006)
Sammy’s career began humbly in a dog pound in the State of Maine where she was taken after a State Trooper found her wandering along a highway. She was less than a year old and undernourished but her enthusiasm and love of tennis balls bought her a ticket out of the pound and she was soon transferred to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy for training as an Arson Dog. After teaming with Green Township Fire Investigator Steve Claytor, K-9 Sammy became southwest Ohio’s first Certified Arson K-9 and investigated over 1,000 fires during her career. She was often called in to help fire investigators in the tri-state area and made many appearances in court. So successful was she at putting the bad guys away, at one point there was a price put on her head. After retirement from “active duty” Sammy was free to indulge in her favorite pastimes, which included swimming, riding along in the truck to fire scenes, and burying toys in the yard, one of which we’re still looking for. Sammy lived out her days as a beloved pet in the Claytor home. She passed away on June 18, 2006.
K-9 Maverick (April 2001 – 2008; passed away June 2008)
Born at a breeder’s facility in Lima, OH K-9 Maverick was donated to the arson dog program. After training and certification, he teamed with Green Township Fire Investigator Steve Claytor. They investigated over 100 fire scenes each year, aiding departments in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Many area children and adults were familiar Maverick from his frequent demonstrations at schools, churches and civic groups. He was always ready to work or play and his outstanding scent discrimination abilities were matched only by his loving heart. He would do anything asked of him, even calmly riding with Steve in the fire truck aerial to reach a rooftop investigation. Diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in January 2008, he passed away in June of that year. Maverick kept working until the end, investigating his last fire less than a week before his death. His passing left an empty place in the Claytor home.
K-9 Rudy (September 2008 – current)
Rudy and Steve had the good fortune to be found on the internet by a wonderful woman who raises puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs. She saw Rudy’s photo and immediately recognized him as “her Rudy”. Thanks to her, Steve was able to fill in the blanks about Rudy’s early life as a guide dog for the blind. We learned, among other things, that he is a “goldador”, a cross between a Labrador and Golden Retriever. Although unsuccessful as a guide dog, Rudy found his true calling as an arson K-9. His scent detection skill is exceptional and he never fails to find the source of incendiary fires, investigating well over 500 so far. When he isn’t helping to identify the point of a fire’s origin, he is out in the community where his engaging personality draws people to him to hear the all-important message about fire safety. Rudy, like Sammy and Maverick before him, has a second home and second family at the Green Township firehouse. All three dogs had an important “side job at the firehouse…as therapy dogs. As one firefighter recently stated, “I noticed that when we returned from a bad run (translation: traumatic EMS call or fire), everyone heads for Rudy”. We owe these dogs so much and they ask for nothing in return except the occasional belly rub. Well ok, a lot of belly rubs. We love them, we work with them, and we will never forget them.
Assistant Fire Chief Steve Gallagher – Chillicothe Fire Department (Chillicothe, OH)
K-9 Winchester (May 2000 – 2011; passed away May 2011)
Chillicothe Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Steve Gallagher has been a canine handler since May 2000 when he was first partnered with a one year old chocolate Labrador retriever named Winchester in Alfred, Maine. Upon their return to Ohio, they began investigating fires all over the state and saw the number of accelerated arson fires drop significantly over the 11 years of Winchester’s career. One of K-9 Winchester’s most famous cases was a triple homicide in 2002. Winchester detected an accelerant on a man who was initially considered a witness, rather than a suspect. If it hadn’t been for Winchester’s remarkable nose, the arsonist could have gotten away with the murder of three people. Following a stellar career, Winchester suddenly became ill and passed away from cancer in May 2011. After the death of Winchester, Steve didn’t know if he would ever want to train and own another arson dog. The death of his 11-year partner was quite a hit to Steve and his wife. K-9 Winchester wasn’t just a dog; he was a friend, companion, and member of the family. It would take something monumental to change Steve’s mind.
In June 2012, one year after the passing of K-9 Winchester, the National Fire Dog Monument passed through Ohio on the way to its final destination and placement in Washington, DC. The monument was created by Colorado sculptor Austin Weishel and it depicts a handler with his canine partner. The monument made a brief stop in Columbus, OH so Steve and his wife came out to see it. It changed everything. Seeing the monument and the incredible connection that the handler and canine shared, Steve went home, talked it over with his wife, and submitted an application to be partnered with a new canine. He missed the bond that he shared with a canine partner and he realized it was time to grab a hold of the leash with both hands.
K-9 Gunther (May 2013 – current)
In April 2013, Gallagher re-entered the program and was partnered with a rambunctious 2 year old yellow Lab named Gunther. In the short time that Gunther has been on the job in Ohio, he has continued the same quality work as his predecessor, continuing the low number of accelerated fires in the area. Both dogs were active with group visits and “speaking” engagements, which helped greatly with overall prevention efforts. Steve is fond of telling groups that he’s Gunther’s assistant, and if he (Gunther) ever gets to where he can reach the brake and accelerator pedals of the car, Gallagher will be out of a job. “I truly can’t think of any work that has been more rewarding over my career than my time as a dog handler. Winchester and Gunther have been and are partners in every sense of the word. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been exceedingly gratifying on many different levels.”
Captain Kevin Bakley – Strongsville Fire & EMS (Strongsville, OH)
K-9 Sirius (April 2002 – 2008; passed away August 2008)
Strongsville, OH lies just 30 minutes southwest of Cleveland and for the past 12 years, Captain Kevin Bakley has been an arson dog handler for the region. As part of the Southwest Emergency Response Team (SERT), Captain Bakley and his canine partners have investigated fire scenes in 18 communities. His first arson dog, K-9 Sirius, was named after a heroic bomb detection dog who was killed during the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. K-9 Sirius was in service for six years before passing away in 2008.
K-9 Murphy (April 2009 – February 2014)
Captain Bakley went to Alfred, Maine and trained with a new arson dog partner, a goldadore named Murphy, in April 2009 and since then they have been a remarkable asset for the region. K-9 Murphy was retired from investigation service in February 2014. In June, Captain Bakley will also officially retire from fire service following a career that spanned 36 years.
Chief Matt Balut – Trumbull County Fire Investigation Unit (Warren, OH)
K-9 Hydra (April 2002 – 2013; passed away September 2013)
Chief Matt Balut with the Trumbull County Fire Investigation Unit was partnered with a beautiful chocolate Lab named Hydra in the spring of 2002. Named after the serpent-like water monster of Greek mythology, K-9 Hydra was also a force to be reckoned with when it came to investigating fire scenes. Over the course of her 11 ½ year career, Chief Balut and K-9 Hydra averaged 50 fire investigations a year across six counties in northwest Ohio. On September 5, 2013 her amazing career came to an end as she passed away in Matt’s arms following her 10 month battle with cancer. In honor of K-9 Hydra, Chief Balut traveled to Washington, DC to be a part of the formal dedication of the National Fire Dog Monument on October 23, 2013. Her incredible work ethic will never be forgotten.
This month I am highlighting our three extraordinary arson dog teams located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It makes total sense that the state tree and flower is the DOGWOOD given the incredible work that arson canine teams do throughout the state! Whether it is locating evidence to put arsonists behind bars or meeting with children and civic groups to talk about fire safety, these handlers and their amazing canine partners are tremendous assets to the residents of Virginia.
Division Chief William “Chip” Hart – Spotsylvania County Fire, Rescue, & Emergency Management (Spotsylvania, VA)
K-9 Samantha (April 1993 – 2006 as secondary handler)
K-9 Wyatt (September 2006 – current)
The State Farm Arson Dog Program began training handlers and canines in early 1993. Spotsylvania County Fire & Rescue has been there since that first year. Deputy Fire Marshal Philip Sullivan was partnered with the department’s first arson dog, K-9 Samantha, during training class #2 in April 1993. Philip and K-9 Samantha served the department for twelve years. It was also during this time that Chip Hart gained experience as an arson dog handler, first as the secondary handler for K-9 Samantha and then as the primary handler for the department’s current arson dog, K-9 Wyatt.K-9 Wyatt is an eight year old Goldador (golden retriever/black Labrador mix) who works alongside Chip during fire investigations. K-9 Wyatt was originally trained through a seeing-eye dog program near Detroit, Michigan (making him a Motown dog) but like many of the dogs in the State Farm Arson Dog Program, he had too much energy and food drive to be an effective service dog. K-9 Wyatt and Chip met on the first day of training class in Maine and after five weeks of training, they graduated and were certified as a team in September 2006. Since that time, K-9 Wyatt and Chip have investigated over 300 cases in northern Virginia. Wyatt was recognized for uncovering an IED made of gasoline and LPG tank at an arson fire. The IED was placed in a lower level room with the intentions of maiming or killing firefighters while battling the blaze. Thankfully the IED failed to function.
Investigator Jesse Gomes – Hampton Division of Fire & Rescue (Hampton, VA)
K-9 Taylor (September 2008 – current)
The Hampton Division of Fire & Rescue in Hampton, VA also has long history with the State Farm Arson Dog Program. Investigator Mike Gabany investigated fires for the City of Hampton and the surrounding area with two arson dog partners; K-9 Ruger and K-9 Zorro. When Mike and his K-9 partners retired, Investigator Jesse Gomes and K-9 Taylor began investigating suspicious fires in 2008.
Investigator Gomes is a certified Fire Investigator, Fire Inspector and Medic firefighter with the City Of Hampton in Virginia. Jesse and K-9 Taylor partnered in Alfred, Maine were they were certified in late 2008. Taylor, a Lab mix came from Michigan, she was born in May 2007. The team trains three times a day, responds to approximately 160 fires annually, and conducts fire safety education demonstrations at city schools. Jesse is also responsible for a fire district where he inspects more than 270 structures for fire code violations so there is a great deal of work that needs to be done and he couldn’t do it all without the help of K-9 Taylor. In fact, they have recovered more than 200 confirmed samples of accelerants at arson fire investigations in and around the City of Hampton. That is why Jesse refers to K-9 Taylor as “The Best Tool in his Tool Box”. K-9 Taylor lives with Jesse and his family that includes 2 children and her canine buddy Zoe, a Doberman.
Investigator Len “Archie” Archer – Richmond Fire Department (Richmond, VA)
K-9 Ellie (May 2010 – current)
Captain Mike Martin with the Richmond Fire Department had an amazing career with his canine partner, K-9 Bailey. Mike and Bailey investigated fires in and around the City of Richmond from August 1998 until K-9 Bailey retired in the spring of 2010. She passed away in November 2010 following a nearly 12 year career. During that time, Chief Martin and K-9 Bailey investigated hundreds of suspicious fires and talk so many children about the importance of fire safety. When K-9 Bailey retired, she passed the leash to a new team; Len Archer and K-9 Ellie.
Len Archer is a member of the City of Richmond Department of Fire & EMS. Certified as a fire investigator in 2004, he became a certified accelerant detection handler in May 2010 when he graduated from arson dog training. His canine partner, K-9 Ellie, is a female black Labrador born on September 9, 2009. Like most of the dogs trained through the State Farm/Maine Specialty Dogs program, Ellie didn’t start off as an arson dog. She was acquired through the Florida Leader Dog Program where she was being raised and trained to be a guide dog for the blind. Instead, Ellie had the right stuff to be a law enforcement dog because of her high energy level and strong prey drive. Since her certification as an accelerant detection canine in 2010, K-9 Ellie has served her community by conducting over 300 investigations and assisting with 25 investigations for county/jurisdictions surrounding the City of Richmond. Len is very proud that the evidence found by K-9 Ellie, nine (9) arsonists have been convicted! It isn’t all work for Ellie though. Len and Ellie are very popular on the demonstration circuit and have made over 35 public appearances before an estimated 15,000 people to teach about fire prevention and show how impressive her investigation talents are.