Fire Investigator and Dog Handler Julie Sykes kindly gave up some of her valuable time to answer a few questions about Jack...
It’s based around play. Initially when I first got Jack at 10 months old we went out every day and played with a tennis ball. Once we started his training it was all based around his tennis ball. He would look for his tennis ball and there would be an accelerant associated with the find of the tennis ball. Eventually we moved away from the ball and used it as a reward. Once he gets a find in the fire scene we have a couple of minutes having a play with the ball as his reward.
How do you know when he's found something?
Once he finds a smell of an accelerant Jack stands still. He is unique and prances on the spot with his front paws. Jack will then expect the ball to appear. I’ve tweaked it slightly for him as we work mainly in confined spaces and once he finds an accelerant he looks at me for the reward but for safety purposes I then find a safe place away from the scene to give him the ball.
What did Jack have to make him a suitable candidate for the role?
The dog has to be keen and eager to please. These dogs want to be busy and need to be slightly head strong. If I’m in a fire scene and I try to pull him off I need him to be head strong in the way he’s not going to budge until I recognize he's found something. These types of dogs need to be head strong so they can do their job. You don’t want them to be passive and not have the enthusiasm to get the job done.
I think they love watching the dog work. The training starts with the actual fire in the container with a fire investigation/forensic input with a group of students. This is followed by a demonstration from Jack.
Julie demonstrates the dog's ability to work by placing four t-shirts on the ground. Two of the t-shirts are contaminated six weeks ago with paraffin/diesel and then put through the washing machine several times. This exercise highlights that if someone did start a fire and washed their clothes and then the clothing was seized by the police at a later date. Jack would be able to detect a fuel. The forensic investigator would take it away as evidence and the laboratory would identify what type of fuel was found on the clothing.
He’s in the woods looking for pheasants! Jack loves going into the woods everyday for an hour or two. He often joins my business colleague on a local shoot and he picks up and flushes. He loves it!
He’s just so keen to please me. It’s such a sense of achievement when he finds something. He never stops and loves being busy. Jack is always on the go and has a lovely enthusiasm for life.
Julie and Jack both work in the educational and investigative sector. Can you give me an example of investigator sector?
It could be for the fire and rescue service or police or an insurance company. We sometimes have to attend a fire scene and Jack will to do a forensic search. We work all over the country so it does vary. Next week we’re in Leicester and Middlesbrough. What advice would you give a youngster who perhaps wants to be a fire investigator dog handler?
Unless you obtain a niche in the area, for e.g. we work in the educational sector, there isn’t a high volume of private work out there so your best option is to go through a fire and rescue service as a fire fighter. Clive Gregory is the expert and specialist of this area of work. He brought the first fire and rescue dog into the country in 1996.
Julie is qualified to Level 1 in Fire Investigation and worked for Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service for over 20 years in the emergency control room. Julie visits several universities throughout the country on undergraduate, postgraduate and international courses. Recently she has been involved in developing and delivering a fire investigation module for an on line masters qualification.
There is no doubt this training is an important part of the course curriculum and forensic students are fascinated to watch Jack work his magic. The fire investigation team demonstrate passion and commitment within their field. The excitement and anticipation for this event is a measure of the popularity our students have for this type of training. Jack is simply gorgeous. He's a real inspiration and a huge asset to the educational and investigative sectors throughout the country.
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