Browza, the Fire and Rescue service’s detective dog, has died.
Hertfordshire’s first-ever rescue dog, he investigated more than 270 incidents during his six years of service with Hertfordshire Fire Service, helping to secure many convictions.
Sniffing out the evidence
Browza was a well-travelled dog. During his time with Herts FRS, he uncovered evidence in hundreds of arson cases not only in Hertfordshire, but also in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Essex. He also attended incidents further afield in Oxfordshire, London, Berkshire and Lincolnshire.
Roy Wilsher , Herts FRS Chief Fire Officer, described Browza as an asset and an integral part in helping the FRS investigate fires. The dog was involved in a number of high profile investigations where the evidence he found proved vital in court.
“Browza had excellent successes in driving down deliberate fire setting and his significant achievements and successes have led the way in helping to make the county safer and acting as a deterrent to arsonists,” he said.
The role of fire investigation dogs
The Association of Fire Investigation Dog Handlers describes a fire dog as the “very best search tool available to man” http://www.fidogs.co.uk/ . Dogs, with their superior sense of smell, can pick out scent particles of ignitable liquid residues such as petrol or paraffin in smaller concentrations than any portable scientific equipment, rapidly and accurately detecting their location at a fire scene once the fire is out and the scene cold.
Fire dogs are usually Labradors, known for their calmness and reliability, or the livelier Springer or Cocker Spaniels, which can be used in smaller spaces.
The expense of dogs and their handlers can be prohibitive, costing an estimated £42,000 per dog in 2002, and some have been victims of the cuts to fire services. Dogs are often shared across FRSs, for example if Devon & Somerset need a dog they can use the dog from Cornwall or Avon FRS.
Advantages of using detector dogs
Trained dogs can:
- Detect the presence of ignitable liquids with greater sensitivity and accuracy than electronic field equipment;
- Differentiate between natural hydrocarbons produced during combustion and hydrocarbons introduced in illegal fire setting;
- Reduce the time an investigator spends on excavation and debris sampling;
- Reduce the number of samples that require expensive forensic testing;
- Deter prospective arsonists;
- Access small spaces;
- Play a vital role in community education and fire safety
They can also help to rescue other dogs according to this story about another fire dog. Reqs, from Herts FRS, sniffed out a dog trapped under the rubble of a house destroyed by a gas explosion. Since this rescue, Reqs’s Twitter account now has nearly 3,000 followers.
The costs of arson
According to the Arson Prevention Bureau, arson has become the fastest growing crime in the UK and is the largest single cause of all fires, costing the economy of England an estimated £1.7bn in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Although the number of deliberately started fires has been steadily going down since its peak in 2003/04, arson accounted for 45 per cent, or almost half, of the total number of fires attended by local authority FRSs in England in 2012-13, comprising 68,900 out of a total of 154,000 attended fires, an average of 1,325 a week.