Meet Ember, our new fire investigation dog

Ember, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service's new fire investigation dog, wearing her protective boots. Click on the thumbnail below for a picture showing Ember, handler Kerry Burns and Barney.

16 July 2008

Meet Ember, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s new fire investigation dog. She’s a 20-month-old Labrador who is called in to help investigate fires which are believed to have been started deliberately.

Ember, who has recently completed her training at the International Fire College in Preston, is fire investigation dog handler Kerry Burns’ second canine recruit. Kerry has been working with Barney, a black collie cross, since November 2006.

Kerry said: “Initially, Ember will work alongside Barney to build on the knowledge she has gained while training. Eventually she will take over from him as he is now seven and likely to retire next year.”

Fire investigation dogs are trained to sniff out anything that an arsonist might use to start a fire, such as petrol or lighter fluid. Dogs have a superior sense of smell to humans and can detect the presence of flammable fuels with greater sensitivity and accuracy than electronic equipment.

Kerry said: “They can search a large area quickly and efficiently without disturbing other important evidence, and reduce both the time an investigator spends on excavating and sampling fire debris and the number of samples required for expensive forensic testing.”

They can even tell the difference between hydrocarbons produced naturally while a fire is burning and those used to start the fire.

The scene of a fire can be a dangerous place even when the fire has been put out so, like Barney, Ember will wear special boots to protect her feet when she is working, and a reflective harness and line.

Kerry said: “The boots protect her paws from being cut by debris, while the harness tells her that she is working, helps me keep track of her and allows me to attach a search line to make sure she keeps away from dangerous areas.”

Ember can also search an area after an arsonist has left the scene. If the arsonist has hidden some evidence, such as a petrol can, she will find it so that police can fingerprint it for DNA. Fire investigation dogs also search the homes, vehicles and clothing of suspected arsonists.

When Ember picks up the vapour given off by a suspicious substance, she indicates its location by pointing at the source with her nose. Kerry then rewards her for a successful find, and a sample is taken away for forensic laboratory examination.

Ember and Barney are sponsored by Reading-based Aquadoggies, a hydrotherapy pool for dogs, and supermarket chain Tesco. Andrew and Carol Dicker, who own Aquadoggies, supply Ember and Barney’s food. Tesco are paying the lease and fuel costs of the specially adapted Peugeot van Kerry uses to drive Ember and Barney to incidents for the next year.

As well as investigating suspicious fires in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Kerry, Ember and Barney also work in neighbouring Berkshire and Oxfordshire when requested.

Their call sign – the code name by which they are known within Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service – is Kilo 9, or K9 for short.