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Ohio fire dept. announces graduation, retirement of arson K9 dogs

Finnegan and Baxter completed the accelerant detection K9 program, and Paz is set to retire


Columbus Division of Fire

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Division of Fire will be announcing the graduation of accelerant detection K9’s Finnegan and Baxter and the retirement of K9 Paz on Friday, June 9, 2017, at 10 a.m., at Mitchell J. Brown Station #3 located at 222 Greenlawn Ave.

Finnegan, a 14-month-old chocolate lab, completed the Columbus Division of Fire 20-week accelerant detection course along with his handler Rob Heising, Fire and Explosives Investigator for the State of Ohio Fire Marshal’s office. K9 Finnegan was rescued from the Champaign County Animal Welfare Shelter after being surrendered for “a better purpose” according to former owner, Cathy McCumber.

Finnegan, Baxter and Paz (Columbus Division of Fire)
Finnegan, Baxter and Paz (Columbus Division of Fire)

McCumber, the Mechanicsburg, Ohio resident, mentioned several times about wanting another dog in her life and spoke endlessly about having her mind and heart set on a chocolate lab. McCumber’s daughter decided to make this wish come true by surprising her mother on her 62nd birthday with a fun, loving and energetic chocolate lab puppy named Finnegan.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” said McCumber. “Unfortunately, as many stories go, I realized early on that I’m not superwoman anymore. I knew Finn’s energy, love and breed needed much more than I could give him.”

Between juggling the duties and responsibilities of her daycare and tending to the needs of Finnegan, McCumber made the tough decision to give the puppy to Tiger Franks, friend and Executive Director of the Champaign County Animal Welfare Shelter. During this time, McCumber made a point to stay in close contact with Franks and visited Finn at the shelter on a regular basis.

“The children here in the daycare adore him. He loved them a lot with his wagging tail that knocked them and many things over many times. Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about him or admire the pictures we took during our time with him,” said McCumber.

“Truly and honestly, it was a decision of the heart. I knew I had to do what was best for this boy.”

Late last year, Columbus Fire K9 Unit Trainer, Dennis Hammond, discovered Finn after responding to an adoption ad on the Champaign County Animal Welfare’s Facebook page. Now, Finnegan and Heising will test as a team to earn Ohio’s certification for accelerant detection K9 on June 15, 2017 at the State Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg. 

“The pride, joy and surprise that this is what he ended up accomplishing in his life as such a young pup is just amazing,” said McCumber.

“I went through a long period of time where I felt that I had failed him but then finally with the help of friends and family, I was able to understand I didn’t fail him, I helped him. That’s pretty amazing within itself.”

Finnegan and Investigator Heising will have investigative responsibilities for Pickaway, Fayette, Clinton and Greene counties. The State of Ohio Fire Marshal now has four arson and one bomb detection dog. Three of State Fire Marshall dogs have been trained by Columbus Fire K9 Unit.

In addition to Finnegan, the Division will also be announcing the graduation of K9 Baxter, a three-year-old black lab purchased from Tarheel Canine in North Carolina. Baxter will work alongside with Columbus Fire K9 Handler Lew Smith. Smith will be retiring his current dog Paz on Thursday, June 15, 2017 after six-and-a-half years of service to the residents of Columbus.

Arson dogs are trained to detect nine different petroleum based odors frequently used in arson fires, including gasoline, diesel fuel, lamp oil, kerosene, lighter fluid, charcoal fluid, paint thinner, camping fuel and distillate-based stain removers.

The dogs begin the “imprinting” process by repetition; with the trainer giving the “seek” command followed by offering the dog a whiff of a minute trace of gasoline (10 microliters, or about a quarter of a drop) which simulates the remaining residue after a hot structure fire. The K9 in training receives a lump of food as a reward each time he “sits” to indicate detection.

The K9 handler and dog must pass the state’s certification test as a team, and work on handling skills and search patterns during the training period so the pair can work as a seamless team on a fire scene.

The Division of Fire has been training dogs to assist in arson investigations and bomb detection duties since 2006. In 2016, the Division’s arson dog has assisted in 140 investigations, while a pair of explosive detection dogs have worked at 375 incidents and events, including Red, White & Boom, the Columbus Marathon, Pelotonia, Columbus Crew, Columbus Blue Jackets and Ohio State Buckeye sporting events, plus many high profile political candidate visits, including President Barack Obama and then candidate Donald Trump recent visits to Columbus.

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