Arson detection dogs sniff out valuable evidence
After reading a story in an insurance company publication on the successes of an accelerant detection dog, Steve Rudzinski, who heads up the Lake County (Ind.) Fire Chiefs Association’s Arson Task Force, decided that his St. John, Ind., volunteer fire department could use one. The fire chief s response: “As long as it doesn’t cost the taxpayers.”
With the help of a local Allstate insurance agent, Rudzinski secured a $6,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation. The money was to be used for the acquisition and training of an arson dog.
Allstate and other insurers with similar programs reason that if they can uncover just one case of insurance fraud or find a criminal, such a dog is more than paid for.
Rudzinski used his funds purchase a 70-pound female labrador retriever named Mischief and took her to the Rudy Drexler School for Dogs in Elkhart, Ind., for accelerant training.
“When I came up with the idea, we gave a presentation to the Indiana State Firefighters Association,” Rudzinski says. “Some of the chiefs thought it was a big joke. We gave them a demonstration, and they stopped laughing. Today, we’re uncovering valuable evidence that’s leading to arrests and prosecutions and saving everyone a lot of money.”
Arson dogs can cut down on sampling time for the arson investigator. In one case, at a fire in a three-story abandoned department store, Mischief made six “hits” (or found six questionable samples) in the basement. Of the six samples, five were positive. An investigator would have had to take considerably more than six, according to Rudzinski.
To date, Mischief has been 80 percent positive on the evidence samples that she has identified.
(When samples are sent to the lab for analysis, the Gaschromatograph cannot always identify elements, so Mischief might actually be on the mark 100 percent of the time.)
“It has been proven that dogs can identify minute particles and compounds [physical evidence] that machinery cannot detect,” says Alan DeLee of Barker & Herbert Analytical Laboratories, New Haven, Ind.
Rudzinski and Mischief have now been to 30 fires in their first year together, providing mutual aid for departments in Lake County, as well as Newton and Porter counties, and in conjunction with the Indiana State Fire Marshall’s Office. Most often, they are called on when the arson investigator is unable to find anything.
Drexler’s dogs are trained to detect a long list of accelerants for either a passive or aggressive response, including petroleums, acetone bases, naturals (transmission fluid and turpentine), alcohol, paint removers, and rubber roofing materials.
Rudzinski uses just one drop of an element in training, and Mischief finds it quickly, even when obstacles like burnt material are around it.