Fire Department

The idea of utilizing canines to detect flammable accelerants was first expressed by Robert Noll, a Detective for the NYPD Bomb Squad, and an Explosives Enforcement Officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). He suggested that if dogs could be trained to detect narcotics and explosives, they could also be trained to find accelerants used in arson fires. To explore the feasibility of such a new detection system, ATF began a pilot study involving Noll’s personal dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Nellie. The results of this experimental program were presented in 1984 to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Robert Noll and ATF's Chief Explosives Forensic Chemist, Richard Strobel published a comprehensive report on the program explaining its unique training methodologies and protocols. Based on the findings of this pilot study, the National Canine Accelerant Detection Program was established. In May 1986, ATF in conjunction with the Emergency Services Unit of the Connecticut State Police began the first canine accelerant detection training.

A few months later, in September 1986, a black female Labrador Retriever named Mattie became the world’s first certified Accelerant Detection Canine. During her training, Mattie learned to detect 17 different odors even if only miniscule quantities of the flammable liquids were present. Mattie never failed to amaze her handler, Connecticut State Police Trooper Douglas Lancelot. On several occasions, as Mattie and Lancelot waited on scene for a fire to be extinguished, she “identified” the arsonist in the crowd of onlookers. Mattie retired from active duty in1997 after 11 years of service.

Since the program began, ATF trained and certified over 50 accelerant detection canines for use by police and fire departments across the United States. ATF certifies each dog through its national laboratory and requires that both the dog and his handler be recertified annually. The accelerant canines are trained to give a passive alert when they encounter any trace of flammable or ignitable liquid. The dog sits and points her nose toward the strongest concentration of the detected substance, then looks at her handler for reward. As not to disturb the evidence, the dog remains seated until the area is marked and secured. To reinforce his accelerant-detecting ability, the dog must be trained daily; He must find a sample placed by the handler before feeding. Although many breeds qualify for the training, Labrador Retrievers seem to be the most popular graduates in the accelerant detection program, mostly due to their calm disposition and excellent noses.

To visit the Clark County Fire Department K-9 Unit, click here.

Return to Home