Santa Clara County Fire Department

Fire/Arson Investigation

Campbell Investigation
Santa Clara County Fire Dept Archive

Fire investigation in Campbell.

The Department is one of the few agencies in the Bay Area to staff full time fire investigator positions, augmented by on-call personnel. Investigation of fires provides information on the origin and cause of local fire problems, provides information to the local news media regarding fire safety education and helps with Arson Awareness Week.

arson poster arson poster
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Arson Investigation provides for the apprehension of arsonists who cause billions of dollars in property damage and fraud, and death each year. The Department also uses the AIRS program to track arson registrants, parolees and suspects, and compile fire statistics. Together with local police agencies and the Santa Clara County Fire Investigation Unit, (a sub-unit of the Santa Clara County Fire Chief's Association), the Santa Clara County Fire Department places a strong emphasis on quelling arson fires, as they account for about 25% of all fires.

The Department is constantly providing training to it's employees, and the Department's Fire/Arson Investigators participate in training with the following agencies:

The department is also affiliated with the following agencies:

Rosie the Flammable Liquid Detection K-9

Rosie

Rosie is a Labrador Retriever, born in 2002, who has been trained to detect several different types of flammable liquids. Rosie and her handler, the Arson Unit Chief, were trained in Front Royal Virginia at the ATF Canine Training Center. Rosie and the Chief have been in service together since the first of 2004. They respond to and assist at fires within County Fire jurisdiction and in other cities in the County.

Rosie Rosie

Two formal portaits of Rosie and the Chief at graduation from the ATF CTC

Rosie Rosie

Two shots of Rosie training with the Chief at the ATF CTC

The Flammable Liquid Detection Canine program is a joint venture with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Rosie came from Guiding Eyes of New York, and trained for a total of 11 weeks, 6 weeks for the dog and 5 more weeks together with her handler. Rosie is a "passive alert canine" versus an "aggressive alert canine": she sits when she alerts, rather than scratching and disrupting the scene. Rosie alerts to 8 different flammable liquids in three groups of distillates, light, medium and heavy. She is trained by a food reward system. After detection, evidence is taken to a crime lab for analysis and comfirmation.

Some of the benefits of using a Flammable Liquid Detection K-9 are:

  • detection of small amounts of flammables
  • reduced time finding the flammables at the fire scene
  • reduced time digging through the fire debris
  • reduced amount of fire debris to be analyzed by the County Crime Lab
  • detection of flammables on humans
  • reduction of arsons

Rosie lives with her handler 24/7, and should have 8-9 working years depending on her health status. Her handler is responsible for her care and feeding, and she gets a yearly recertification through the ATF.

Dolph the Flammable Liquid Detection K-9 (retired)

Dolph

Sport Shots, Inc.

Dolph was a male, 65lb (30kg) Black Labrador, who worked as an arson investigation dog. Born 1 September 1991, he received ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) certification on 7 December 1993, and California certification on 6 January 1994. His handler was Chief Fire Investigator Bernard W. "Bill" Hardwicke.

Dolph and Hardwicke
Custom Cards

Dolph and Hardwicke were a special team certified in accelerant detection by the ATF. Dolph met his new partner, Bill Hardwicke, on a chilly October morning in 1993 at the Connecticut State Police Caninie Training Center in Meriden, Connecticut.

Their meeting was underwritten by Aetna Life and Casualty as part of it's "Arson Alert" program that was co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Connecticut State Police. The program was designed to help stop the loss of lives and property due to fires set by arsonists in the U.S.

In 1983, ATF began a pilot training program using a yellow Labrador retriever named Nellie. The next year results of this work were presented to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The culmination of this effort led to the training of the first operational accelerant detection dog, Mattie, in 1986.

Dolph was one of an elite corps of Labrador retrievers expertly trained by the ATF and the Connecticut State Police. The dogs were donated by Aetna to only forty investigators across the country. Dolph was the only dog assigned to California. The only other dog in the western states was in Nevada. These dogs were unique because they were the only dogs whose training was certified by ATF.

The Labs used for this program were judged unsuitable for training as guide dogs by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, New York. Some dogs were unsuitable due to the fact that they may have been too energetic or easily distracted, but this didn't disqualify them from a career in arson investigation. Labs are a known quantity - gentle, very smart and equipped with a scenting capability built over many generations.

Dolph could detect a substance containing a concentration of only one part per trillion (1/1,000,000,000,000,000) in the atmosphere, and his sense of smell was much more sensitive than any sophisticated equipment. Dolph could detect a half-drop of flammable liquid in the ruins of a fire. These dogs, which were recertified annually throught their working careers, claim an accuracy record of 95-99% in detecting an accelerant. Most often, the dogs were out at night. Other breeds might become aggressive and alert to dangers, but a Lab just keeps working to find the scent of an accelerant. Using Pavlovian training, a reward of food for the right behavior, Dolph's innate scenting and tracking ability for game was transferred to detecting and tracking accelerants used by arsonists to start fires.

As Bill was a member of ATF's National Response Team, both Dolph and Bill were kept busy throughout the State of California. County Fire's participation in the cooperative program with ATF, Connecticut State Police and Aetna raised County Fire to a new plane in the field of investigations.

After only two months on the job, Dolph got his first "collar" at a fire in a high-rise building. Dolph worked more than 300 fire investigations, from wildland to high-rise structures - several resulting in convictions. Now retired and living with his handler, Dolph assisted agencies throughout California and the western United States, and was on the National Response Team for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Dolph passed away in early 2005.

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