State Fire Marshal’s Office: How We Train Our Accelerant and Bomb-Sniffing Dogs

State Fire Marshal’s Office accelerant K-9 Maya poses in front of their memorial to fallen canines.

WHAV is saluting local and state K-9 officers and their four-legged partners in a special series. Listen to the special Dog Days of Summer series Monday through Friday, at 97.9 WHAV FM. The special series is sponsored by the Law Offices of Joseph C. Edwards, Neptune Uniforms, Quinn’s Canine Café and Riverside Veterinary Clinic.

Eat to live, indeed. While most police departments with K-9s on the force utilize command and behavior-based training, the Massachusetts State Police team assigned to the Fire Marshal’s Office readies their canine fleet a little differently. As Sergeant Paul Horgan tells WHAV, his department uses food reward training to keep their four-legged force of Labrador retrievers on task.

“They eat out of our hand – that’s the only way they eat. That’s their reward. So we need to train them every day on the odors they’re trained to find. When they find it, they sit down, look for their reward and we feed them a little bit of food.”

Fire Marshal’s Office explosive detection K-9 Flynn.

In order to maximize the efficacy of their 14 canines, the Fire Marshal’s office trains with a single purpose in mind: Accelerants or explosives, but not both. As a member of the bomb squad team, Sgt. Horgan has worked with his current canine partner Flynn for over seven years. When the duo are not working a case, Flynn is still somewhat on duty. Sgt. Horgan says all of the service dogs are continually trained even on weekends, with the handlers requiring them to seek in order to eat.

Horgan says that while fire investigations happen more often, explosive searches have much more riding on them. As a result, the Marshal’s office does not cross-train their dogs to find narcotics or other odors.

“That’s their only mission: To find explosives. With narcotics, if you miss narcotics, it’s not a big deal, but if you miss an explosive or a bomb, it could be a very big deal.”

In his current gig, Horgan utilizes Flynn for preventative investigations, including Gillette Stadium sweeps or ride-alongs with dignitaries such as President Obama.

That’s not to say explosive detection canines have it easy. One of Flynn’s four-legged colleagues, Dash, was recently instrumental in finding a live bomb in central Massachusetts, Horgan said.

Fire Marshal’s Office explosive detection K-9 Dash.

“We were called to help get to the bottom of the explosion and they had also identified a suspect who was making his own explosives. As Dash was working that forest area, he found a live device up against a tree that was just sitting there. It never would have been found if it weren’t for the dog.”