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.