Horus seems to enjoy working for his food.
Handfuls of kibble await the one-and-a-half-year-old Chocolate Labrador Retriever whenever he catches a scent. He sits up, noses in the scent, then wags his tail as he eagerly snatches the snack from his handler’s hand.
This is how accelerant-sniffing dogs like Horus are trained. And that’s how Erie Fire Bureau Captain Adam Gatti keeps his new partner’s skills honed two to three times a day when the pair aren’t called to the scene of the fire to help investigate the cause of the fire. fire.
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Horus began work this week as the newest member of the Erie Fire Bureau and the youngest member of the bureau’s Fire Prevention and Investigation Division. He comes to town at virtually no cost, thanks to a federal program and the generosity of a few local businesses.
He teamed up with Gatti, an 18-year-old member of the fire department with a history of association with working dogs. A certified search and rescue dog handler, Gatti previously served as Northwest Pennsylvania K-9 Search and Rescue Chief and remains with that group with his wife, LuAnn.
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Three search and rescue dogs, two active and one retired, live with the Gattis and have welcomed Horus into the family, he said.
Gatti, who served as an officer with the Erie Police Bureau for five years before joining the fire bureau, said the police department had 11 K-9 officers when he first joined the force. He said that he always wanted to work with a dog, but he didn’t get the chance to when he was a police officer.
“I never thought I would have to go to the fire department to get a working dog,” she said with a smile.
find a partner
Gatti and Don Sauer, the fire bureau’s chief fire inspector, credit the support of Mayor Joe Schember, his staff, members of the Erie City Council, and Fire Chief Joe Walko and other bureau administrators in making this a reality. the acquisition of Horus.
“Everyone has been very helpful and encouraged us to support each other in getting the dog,” Sauer said.
Gatti said it was a two-year process that first introduced Sauer and the bureau’s former chief inspector, Darren Hart. He said he researched two programs that provide accelerator-sniffing dogs, one through State Farm and the other through the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and decided to apply to the ATF program.
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The federal agency’s Accelerator Detection Canine Program provided fire to Erie with Horus free of charge, as well as training the dog, a six-week training program in Virginia that Gatti and Horus completed in mid-November, and the boarding of Gatti during training.
Horus is one of 65 ATF accelerator detection dogs across the country, Gatti said. The dog is considered a regional asset and will be asked to assist with investigations beyond Erie when needed, he said.
The two closest accelerator detection dogs to Erie before Horus began work were a State Farm dog in Beaver County and an ATF dog in Allegheny County, according to Gatti and Sauer.
Horus and Gatti are also part of ATF’s National Response Team and may be called upon in large-scale investigations across the country, Gatti added.
Gatti said others have stepped in to help with Horus’ care now that he is employed in Erie. He said Animal Ark and Animal Kingdom pet hospitals have agreed to provide free basic veterinary care; Buzz n’ B’s Aquarium & Pet Shop is providing a lifetime supply of food and Sheldon’s Carpets is providing carpet scraps to use for training.
How Horus works
Horus’s job is to determine if an accelerator was used to start a fire at a scene, whether it’s a building, a vehicle or an open space, Gatti said. The dog is trained to detect different petroleum distillates, including gasoline, diesel fuel and lighter fluid, he said.
If the dog can detect the presence of an accelerant, that information is passed on to the Erie Police Bureau for criminal investigation and to charge a suspect, if it is determined that a fire was started intentionally, Sauer said.
Great care is taken when placing Horus at the scene of a fire, Gatti said. First, the scene is checked to determine if it’s safe for the dog to enter, including checking that the scene has cooled down and that there are no hazards such as holes in the floor, he said.
“He doesn’t go anywhere we wouldn’t go in without a mask on,” Gatti said.
Once Horus’s job is done, it goes through a decontamination process that includes bathing, according to Gatti and Sauer.
Horus has so far gone to three local fire scenes but found nothing suspicious, they said.
Beyond job fires, Horus benefits for the Erie Fire Bureau include working with the bureau’s two full-time fire inspectors on fire prevention programs at area schools and serving as “a great public relations tool” for the department, Sauer said.
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Walko said that for a department the size of Erie, having an arson investigative dog is a big deal “that really puts us on the map.”
Walko said evidence has shown that in areas where such a dog is present, arson has decreased.
“We are very proud of that and very proud of Horus,” Walko said. “The city of Erie and the surrounding areas have a great benefit right now.”
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Contact Tim Hahn at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.