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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 20th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 37

County fire department trains a super sniffer to help with investigations


Fire Captain Howard Orr and fire accelerant investigator Riley are sniffing out arson cases in the tri-county area.

Occasionally man’s best friend branches out from being a pet to holding down a job. In the case of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a black lab named Riley recently signed on as its newest fire investigator.

As an accelerant detection canine, Riley can help investigators like his handler Cpt. Howard Orr figure out if, and where, an accelerant was used in a fire.

“He can narrow down the area that investigators need to look,” Cpt. David Sadecki said. “This is something that’s new and specialized. It’s unique.”

Sadecki said the department has had search and rescue dogs before, and currently has one on the crew—his name is also Riley and he is a yellow lab—but this is the first accelerant investigating dog the county has employed.

In September, Riley and Orr completed a five-week accelerant detection school that was sponsored by State Farm Insurance and certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. The duo returned to the county fire department and has since then responded to more than 11 fire scenes throughout Santa Barbara County. The pair is also available to respond to fire scenes in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

Riley is one of three accelerant sniffers in California; the others work in Fresno and Chula Vista.

Since its beginning in 1993, the training program funded by State Farm Insurance has put more than 300 dogs in 44 states, three Canadian provinces, and Washington, D.C.

A press release sent out by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said that investigators can spend days or weeks sifting through the rubble left after a fire to determine its cause. With a trained dog, that work can often be completed in less than an hour.

“The dog extends the capabilities of the investigator,” Orr said in the release. “The scent-discriminating abilities of a canine are better than any equipment we can take to a fire scene when arson is suspected. The canine will lead the investigator to the location of the accelerant, so the investigator can take a sample to the Department of Justice crime lab in order to prove arson.”

Sadecki said Riley is Orr’s second handling charge. His first was a chocolate lab named Duke. He served as a search and rescue dog for about 10 years before retiring.

The ongoing costs associated with the program are being supported by donations. The first training was covered by State Farm Insurance and is estimated at $28,000. Dave Dawson of the San Roque Pet Hospital has offered free veterinary services. Wendy Guyer, who owns the Pet House in Goleta, is donating Riley’s dog food.

The department said local residents have already started donating to cover the costs of the training equipment and supplies necessary for Riley to keep his skills sharp. One of the things designed to keep him safe is a vehicle with an early warning heat detection system that would be fitted to Riley. It’s being sought through a private donor. 

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