Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today proclaimed May 3 to May 9 as Arson Awareness Week in New York State. This year’s national theme, “Accelerant Detection Canines: Sniffing Out Arson,” recognizes the integral role of specially trained dogs that can find minute traces of substances that can be used to set fires intentionally, and maximize efficiency at critical investigations into fires statewide.
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner John P. Melville said, “Arson is a malicious crime that puts victims in great danger, and is a devastating blow to individuals, businesses, and communities. It depends on each of us to remain vigilant and report to authorities any suspicious activities in our neighborhoods. Arson Awareness Week is a great opportunity for New Yorkers to learn more about fire safety and prevention. I applaud our emergency responders and accelerant detection canine partners for the work they do to preserve the health and safety of our citizens.”
New York State Fire Administrator Bryant D. Stevens said, “As we observe Arson Awareness Week, we would be remiss to underestimate how accelerant detection canines have impacted the fire investigation process. Their keen sense of smell and their ability to detect the presence of minute amounts of accelerants has proven to be a vital tool for fire investigators. The State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) was one of the first to recognize their value and has proudly relied upon, as well as trained, these dogs to help investigate fires for more than 25 years. New York has been a leader in using the canines to enhance public safety and provide invaluable services that help bring arsonists to justice.”
In New York State, the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) reports that more than 2,100 arsons were reported in 2013. According to the U.S Fire Administration (USFA), more than 12 percent of fatal residential building fires across the country in 2012 were caused intentionally. At least five percent of residential building fires nationwide were started on purpose.
Fires with various causes affect thousands of New Yorkers and emergency personnel statewide each year. In 2013, OFPC statistics show that 138 New Yorkers died in fire-related deaths, and more than 2,200 fire service professionals were injured. Property losses from residential fires outside of New York City in the same year were in excess of $62.5 million.
Accelerant detection canines are vital partners to keep New Yorkers and their communities safe. The OFPC canine training program uses Labradors due to their greater olfactory sense and play drive. Most dogs are donated through the generosity of humane societies. They are screened before they are selected for the program, and are trained for eight weeks at the OFPC’s Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls. The dogs are trained in basic obedience, agility, and scent imprinting and discrimination, and learn to work from aerial ladder devices, on boats, in helicopters, and in burned-out buildings. Additionally, canines must meet strict testing criteria. The dogs, an invaluable tool for fire investigators, live with their handlers and their families. Their handlers also must learn basic veterinary care, and they and their partners learn to work as a team prior to graduation. When they are not working at fire scenes, the canines can sometimes be found at public safety and civic events.
The OFPC has trained more than 35 canine teams for agencies throughout New York, as well as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Indiana, and Edmonton (Canada).
About the Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC)
The OFPC delivers high-quality, comprehensive training, response, and technical assistance programs and services to emergency responders, local entities, and the citizens of New York State. It is an office within the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), which provides leadership, coordination, and support for efforts to prevent, protect against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorism and other man-made and natural disasters, threats, fires and emergencies. For more information, visit the DHSES Facebook page, follow @NYSDHSES on Twitter, or visit dhses.ny.gov.