Fla. gets new arson-sniffing K-9s

The now five trained K-9s cover the entire state of Florida, traveling to where they're needed


By Tony Simmons
The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

JASPER, Fla. — The state of Florida has two new arson-fighting dogs, joining the five trained canines already on the arson beat to set a record for the state with the most dogs actively working to sniff out accelerants.

One of the new dogs, K9 Rico, covers the Florida Panhandle and works with Detective Cody McIntyre out of Jasper and Tallahassee. The other one, K9 Ruthie, partnered with Detective Michael Douglas, sticks her nose into potential crime scenes in the Tampa Bay area. Both are agents of the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office.

Rico and McIntyre "are the only arson dog team in Florida that cover the entire North Florida Panhandle area, from Pensacola to Jacksonville," said Jose Soto with the State Farm insurance company's office of Corporate Responsibility.

Rico is a 2.5-year-old male Goldador (Golden retriever and Labrador retriever cross). Ruthie is a 2-year-old Goldador. Both dogs were raised by Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto.

Detective Cody McIntyre and K-9 Rico.
Detective Cody McIntyre and K-9 Rico. (Suwannee Fire Rescue)

While Rico is McIntyre's first arson dog, Rutie is the second arson dog for Douglas, who previously worked with K9 Misty from 2007-2014.

McIntyre is a detective with the state's Department of Financial Services, Division of Investigative & Forensic Services. In 2020, he became a certified arson K-9 handler for the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office when he was partnered with Rico during a four-week class in Concord, New Hampshire sponsored by State Farm.

"We feel law enforcement officials should have every tool possible to combat this costly and sometimes deadly crime," said Patty Jackson, vice president of Agency and Sales for State Farm. "These K-9s enable investigators to do their job more efficiently and effectively."

[READ: How to buy police K-9 equipment]

The arson dog training program is funded by State Farm and is available to fire departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States, according to a corporate news release. The State Farm Arson Dog Program has placed more than 425 dogs in 46 states, three Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia since its beginning in 1993.

Accelerant detection canines are trained to sniff out minute traces of gasoline, lighter fluid or other substances that may have been used to start a fire. Each dog works and lives with their handler, a law enforcement officer or firefighter trained to investigate fire scenes. The canine and handler are required to complete 200 hours of training.

The majority of canines in the program are obtained from animal shelters, rescue organizations or certified companion programs, according to information provided by State Farm. Many of the dogs are "career change" or "second career" canines, meaning that they were raised to be a disability assistance or guide dog but didn't complete their training because the dog was too energetic.

All accelerant detection canine teams are trained by Maine Specialty Dogs and certified by the Maine State Police.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated 280,000 intentional fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, with associated annual losses of 420 civilian deaths, 1,360 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage.

"The actual number of arson fires and the amount of property damage is likely much higher, as arson is an under-reported crime," Soto said. "Arson dogs played a crucial role in determining the cause of many of these fires."

Though commonly called "arson dogs," the technical term for these animals is "accelerant detection canines." They are trained law enforcement dogs, with specialization in sniffing out evidence at fire scenes. They live with and work alongside a human handler to identify the cause of home or business fires, assist in cold crime cases, and uncover potential evidence in homicides.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis of Panama City Beach credited the insurance company for its commitment to fight fraud by supporting law enforcement efforts. He noted in a statement that fraud " drives up insurance rates for hard-working men and women in our state," and added that the Arson Dog Program "continues to be an outstanding resource for our arson detectives as they work to hold fraudsters accountable."

For more information about the Arson Dog Program visit www.arsondog.org.

(c)2021 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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