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Lancashire’s fire dogs, how they’re chosen and the work they do

Written by on May 30, 2020

It will come as a surprise to some that the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has its own team of rescue dogs.

The likes of Sid, the black Labrador, blond Labrador Rue, Davey the Cocker Spaniel and Lola, the Hungarian Vizsla, are deployed in various roles across Lancashire.

The dogs are trained to help investigate recent fires, to rescue people who are trapped in buildings and can even be deployed in serious terrorism incidents across the country.

Earlier this month Rue was deployed to help with a fire in Hyndburn.

Rue prepares herself to investigate another fire.

But these dogs are not just heroes in Lancashire or England.

Our furry friends in the fire service can be deployed to natural disasters around the world, helping hurricane, earthquake or wildfire victims.

LancsLive spoke to Lindsay Sielski who works as part of International Search and Rescue who have dog teams based in Leicestershire, London, Kent, Essex, Lincolnshire and, of course, Lancashire

She joined Lancashire Fire and Rescue in 2006 and worked as a fire fighter for 10 years.

In 2016 she applied for a role as a dog handler at the International Search and Rescue team, ready to be deployed across the globe in case of major natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

“I haven’t attended any global disasters yet,” said Lindsay.

“It’s a teaser, you don’t want it to happen but, when it does, I know me and the dogs are well prepared to deal with it.”

Most of Lindsay’s time is spent training her dogs before they are deployed to search for survivors trapped in collapsed buildings or sending her dogs into burnt out houses to find the possible source of the blaze.

So what makes a good rescue dog and what does Lindsay look for when she takes on her new colleagues?

Most of her furry friends come from The Dog’s Trust, families who can no longer accommodate a pet or are simply brought in as young puppies.

“It depends on what you prefer,” said Lindsay.

“My colleague Jon Hardman (who works for the Urban Search and Rescue team in Chorley) likes pups but I prefer older dogs.

“What we are looking for is for dogs to have that drive, that ability to find something, where they are obsessive compulsive and won’t leave something alone.

“It’s that willingness to never stop until something is done, that almost compulsive behaviour, which we are looking for.

“They are traits that don’t make them very good house pets but it does make them good for the fire service.”

In terms of breeds there is certainly a theme.

Labradors and Springer Spaniels are popular at Lancashire Fire, although they do have a Hungarian Vizla in the shape of Lola.

“The Labradors are brilliant,” said Lindsay.

“They are very intelligent but can be hard to tire out. Springer Spaniels are a little different, they will go into anything, they will go into really dangerous situations where as the Labradors won’t.

“The Springers just don’t care, we have to look after them, they’re a bit stupid.”

Training is all about tapping into the qualities that already exist in these dogs.

Making them complete tasks like searching a building, or sniffing out flammable liquids, by giving them their ball, or favourite toy, as a reward.

“Rescue dogs take about 18 months to train,” said Lindsay.

“They have to learn to be thorough and search many different areas. But fire investigation dogs can be trained in 12 weeks if they are doing it day in, day out.”

There are two types of dog that mainly work with Lancashire Fire and Rescue.

Fire investigation dogs seek out traces of flammable material, giving the fire service an indication of what could have started the fire.

On the other hand, rescue dogs, like Sid the black Labrador and Cocker Spaniel Davey, search for missing people in amongst partially, or fully, collapsed buildings.

Lindsay said: “We want confidence and energy from our investigation dogs, we want a dog that thinks: ‘I don’t care where I’m going or what I’m getting into because I want my ball at the end of it’.

“Rescue dogs need to be a bit more structured, they have to be able to work around a building and make sure they don’t miss anything.”

Rescue dogs perform a pivotal role for Lancashire Fire, not only searching for missing people but also entering partially collapsed buildings to double check that no one has been left behind.

“It’s called a negative search,” said Lindsay.

“They will search each room in the house to confirm that no one is left in there so that it is officially clear.

“We do have to trust that they have done their job to a certain degree, but sometimes they also carry cameras on their backs so we can see what they are doing.”

Fire investigation dogs work a little differently, they are part of actually piecing together the cause of the fire and, at times, determining whether arson had a part to play.

Lindsay said: “Investigation dogs are under more pressure. What they are doing is telling us if ignition liquid is present at the scene.

“They are trained to bark if they smell those liquids. We have equipment that can detect ignition liquids down to a billionth of a molecule but dogs can smell them down to a trillionth, they are much more useful.

“Last year there was a building on fire for 14 hours but it took the dogs two minutes to show us that petrol had been poured on a skirting board at the scene.”

But there is one question Lindsay finds impossible and that is when it comes to the subject of her favourite dog at Lancashire Fire and Rescue.

“It’s like asking a mother whose child is their favourite,” she said.

“I just couldn’t answer it, they’re all brilliant and they all work so hard and they have their own characteristics.

“I just couldn’t choose between them.”

You can follow the exploits of the dogs at Lancashire Fire and Rescue on their dedicated Instagram account.