The Dogs are Accelerant-Detection K9 certified by the Maine State Police. They are certified to detect trace amounts of hydrocarbon-based compounds (ignitable liquids). They are originally trained under the supervision of Mr. Paul Gallagher, in cooperation with the State Farm Insurance Company. State Farm provided a scholarship, which enabled the handlers to travel to Maine and train with Mr. Gallagher. The teams attend training annually to maintain their certification.
The K-9’s training is maintained daily by means of the “food-reward” system. They are allowed to eat only when they detect the presence of an ignitable liquid. The K-9’s are exclusively hand fed by their handler. The handler ensures they meet their daily food requirements by providing a variety of training exercises. Each drill is designed to challenge the K9 to find trace amounts of ignitable liquids. On the average, the dogs perform these tasks at least three times per day. The K-9’s are also trained several times per week on “scent discrimination” drills. This training involves materials commonly found at a fire scene, such as plastic, wood, carpet, padding, and paper. Each item is placed in a separate container and burned. A container with a small drop or two of 50%-evaporated gasoline is added to the grouping. The K-9 will then search all the containers, only alerting on the one containing the gasoline. The K-9’s must perform the training with 100% accuracy. This eliminates false indications in a fire scene. Each training session is documented and reviewed by the Maine Specialty Dogs staff.
Upon detecting the presence of an ignitable liquid, the K-9’s will sit down and point to the area with their nose. This is known as a “passive alert”. They do not bark, bite, or scratch at an evidence site, which could inadvertently disrupt the evidence. Once they has alerted, or “hit” on an area, the handler will feed them, and then mark the area for a subsequent sample collection. The K-9 “sniffs” the sample containers prior to collection to confirm they are free of contamination. Once the samples are collected, they can be placed in an uncontaminated area, and the K-9 can reconfirm each collected item. An electronic hydrocarbon detector may also be used to confirm the proper debris was collected. If any sample containers are determined to be negative, additional samples of the debris can be collected from the area, and the process will be repeated. The confirmed samples will be sealed and are ready to be sent to a qualified laboratory for analysis.
Before the K-9 is taken into a fire scene the handler will evaluate the area for any safety concerns. Once the safety check is complete the handler will lead the K-9 through the scene to acclimate them to the environment. Once the K-9 has become familiarized with the area, the initial survey will commence. Typically, the search of the interior is started around a door opening. The handler will lead the K-9 around the perimeter of the area and direct her to survey the center. Outside “sniffs” are also routinely performed to assist in searching for discarded containers and other physical evidence relating to the use of an ignitable liquid. The K-9’s are also trained to search vehicles, suspects, clothing, and a variety of other items. The K-9’s are not typically allowed to enter a burned vehicle due to the increased amount of hazards and lack of available footing. If a vehicle search is requested it will be evaluated on a case by case basis.