Colorado is known as a premiere destination for just about every type of outdoor experience you can think of. It is definitely the place to go if you enjoy majestic mountains, raging rivers, and stunning scenery. Colorado also experiences its share of fires that destroy homes, commercial property, and thousands of acres of wild land. The state and its’ residents are very lucky to have an elite team of canine handlers working night and day investigating these fires that destroy not only the beautiful landscape, but also destroys lives. In fact, a recent segment on NBC’s Today Show showcased one of the two teams with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation!
State Farm has been sponsoring the acquisition and training of accelerant detection canine teams, commonly called arson dogs, since 1993. There are currently 81 active arson dog teams trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program in the United States and Canada. Colorado is very lucky to have three arson dog teams to teach children about fire prevention, investigate suspicious fires, and help to put criminals behind bars.
Agent Brett Ellis – Colorado Bureau of Investigation (Pueblo, CO)
K-9 Spencer (April 2004 – April 2013)
K-9 Pippa (April 2013 – current)
Agent Brett Ellis has worked in fire service and law enforcement since 1991. Brett began his career as an arson dog handler in April 2004 when he met his new partner, a beautiful black lab named Spencer. The pair trained in Alfred, Maine through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. As one of two accelerant detection canine teams with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Brett and K-9 Spencer assist cities and fire departments with fire investigations and fire safety demonstrations located throughout Colorado. K-9 Spencer was retired from service in April 2013 and now enjoys relaxing at home. During his nine years of investigating fire scenes for CBI, K-9 Spencer has also produced some amazing statistics:
- The most accelerant alerts that Spencer made at one fire scene were thirty-nine alerts, including the remains of three gasoline containers – one on each floor of the residence.
- The most expensive fire scene that K-9 Spencer worked was for a $7.2 million dollar lodge that was determined to have been intentionally ignited by the owner of the structure.
- The longest “sniff” (looking for an accelerant scent) that K-9 Spencer ever had was 5.7 miles during the investigation into the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs in 2012. Thousands of acres of wild land were burned, hundreds of homes were lost, and two people died during the wildfire.
- In 2011, Brett and K-9 Spencer were the recipients of the CBI’s first Lifesaver Award after they found a man buried alive under rubble while preparing to investigate a building explosion near Pueblo, CO.
With the retirement of K-9 Spencer, Brett began training with a new partner and in April 2013, he met K-9 Pippa when he arrived at training class in Maine. Pippa is a goldador (half lab & half golden retriever) is a “career change dog” originally with Paws with a Cause in Wayland, MI. Through Pippa’s sense of smell, she is able to locate gasoline and other liquid accelerants that are commonly used by an arsonist to intentionally ignite fires. Agent Ellis and K-9 Pippa now assist law enforcement and fire departments in Colorado by investigating fire scenes as well as performing demonstrations in schools and civil organizations.
Even though they have been a team for less than a year, Brett and K-9 Pippa have already investigated several fires that have resulted in arrests. In fact, their very first investigation together was at a Family Dollar Store and despite the fact that there were so many smells including soaps, potpourri, cleaners and bleach, K-9 Pippa alerted on four of the five areas of origins for the fire. With that information in hand, the assistant manager of the store admitted to starting the fire and is now serving time in prison. Looks like Pippa is well on her way to having a huge career just like K-9 Spencer!
Agent Jerry Means – Colorado Bureau of Investigation (Denver, CO)
K-9 Erin (August 2000 – April 2007; K-9 Erin passed away May 2007)
K-9 Sadie (May 2007 – current; K-9 Sadie will be retiring in April 2014)
Agent Jerry Means has been an arson dog handler with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for 13 ½ years. His first partner, K-9 Erin, was a black lab born in Windsor, New York and the pair served the great state of Colorado for almost seven years. K-9 Erin responded to approximately 800 fires in Colorado that resulted in at least 150 arson arrests. In fact, Jerry and K-9 Erin logged more than 270,000 miles in their truck while responding to fire investigations! K-9 Erin conducted hundreds of demonstrations, was a Corporate State Farm poster dog and was recognized in Just Labs Magazine, Fence Post Magazine, Dog Fancy, Dog and Kennel, and several other publications. She was recognized with several awards including one by the Colorado Humane Society for public service and she was honored with a flag flown over Guantanamo Bay for her service to Colorado.
K-9 Erin retired in April 2007 and following her passing in May 2007, Agent Means came up with the idea for a national monument that celebrated all accelerant detection canines. In October 2013, the National Fire Dog Monument (NFDM) was placed and dedicated in Washington, D.C.
With the retirement of K-9 Erin, Jerry traveled to Maine to train with his new canine partner in 2007. Like her predecessor, K-9 Sadie is a female black lab with a career spanning seven years. During that time Jerry and K-9 Sadie have investigated approximately 600 fires in Colorado and have conducted hundreds of demonstrations. In 2012 and 2013, Jerry worked on 116 cases which were almost exclusively fire investigations, and Sadie was used in the vast majority of those cases.
K-9 Sadie was the stand- in model for the National Fire Dog Monument that represents ALL certified arson dogs and has attended numerous events to promote and raise funds for the NFDM. Jerry and K-9 Sadie have also been the recipients of several public service awards including Max Fund Golden Paws Award, the Mason’s Gold Medal for Public Service, and in 2008 they were chosen as Colorado Police Officer of the Year. More recently K-9 Sadie was the winner of the 2011 American Humane Association (AHA) Hero Dog Awards for the Law Enforcement/Arson Dog category and is a National Canine Ambassador for AHA.
Firefighter Mike Manzo – City of Longmont Fire Department (Longmont, CO)
K-9 Sasha (1999 – July 2002; K-9 Sasha passed away December 2007)
K-9 Erin (2001 – 2002 as secondary handler)
K-9 Shadow (May 2002 – August 2012; K-9 Shadow passed away September 12, 2013)
K-9 Holly (September 2012 – current)
Firefighter Mike Manzo is a veteran with the State Farm Arson Dog Program. He has been a firefighter with the City of Longmont for 23 years and for the past 15 years, he has been certified with four different arson dogs. Mike began his career as an arson canine handler as a secondary or back-up handler for Investigator Shari Anderson (Bard) and K-9 Sasha with Platte River Fire Rescue in Laporte, CO. Shari and K-9 Sasha were first trained through the State Farm Arson Dog program in April 1998. The following year Mike was trained to be a back-up handler with K-9 Sasha and in 2001 he became the primary handler following Shari’s retirement from the fire service. During this same time, Mike was also a secondary handler for Jerry Means and K-9 Erin with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Mike remained K-9 Sasha’s primary handler until she was retired in July 2002 and K-9 Erin’s secondary handler until he attended training class and met his new partner.
In May 2002, Mike graduated from the arson dog training academy with his new partner, K-9 Shadow. Shadow was a yellow lab found abandoned in a home and was taken in by the Florida Labrador Rescue. Shadow exhibited the skills necessary to be a great arson dog and was acquired by Maine Specialty Dogs to be trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. Over a career spanning 11 years, Mike and K-9 Shadow assisted with 168 arrests for arson and helped investigate over 1,200 fire scenes throughout Colorado and Wyoming. They also visited thousands of kids while teaching them fire safety. K-9 Shadow officially retired on August 11, 2012 and passed away a year later on September 12, 2013 following a long and incredible career.
With the retirement of K-9 Shadow, Mike began training with a new partner and in September 2012, he met K-9 Holly when he arrived at training class in Maine. Holly is a female goldador (half lab & half golden retriever) and is a “career change dog” originally with Paws with a Cause in Wayland, MI. Paws with A Cause is a non-profit organization that trains assistance dogs nationally for people with disabilities. Like many of the dogs in the State Farm Arson Dog Program, K-9 Holly had too much energy to be a disability assistance dog and rather than have her go to an animal shelter or rescue organization, K-9 Holly has now found her new career as an accelerant detection canine. Mike and K-9 Holly investigate fire scenes and conduct fire safety demonstrations throughout Colorado.