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.