The Lewisville Fire Department is now one of two departments in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to have a liquid accelerant detection K-9 program.
Celina, the fire department’s new liquid accelerant detection K-9, was assigned through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. She is a 20-month-old black lab and was raised in the prison system, receiving training from the Puppies Behind Bars program where inmates train service dogs for first responders and wounded veterans. She is trained to detect six chemical compounds, allowing her to detect over 200 accelerants.
Each year, the fire department investigates around 250 fires.
“Every fire is investigated, whether it’s a fire started in a potted plant started by a cigarette butt, or it’s a larger fire,” Fire Captain Jason Martinson said at a Monday Council meeting.
Of those fires, 30-40 are fires of a criminal nature, and 5-10 of those lead to a prosecution. Lewisville’s arson prosecution rate falls in line with the national average of 20%.
“It’s hard to get a video of someone actually starting a fire, so you have to have a lot of different probable causes and other steps,” Martinson said.
Currently, the department has three shift-based arson investigators and five origin and cause investigators. Martinson is also a full-time arson investigator.
Celina is now used on every fire scene and alleviates the need for man hours, Martinson said. Using Celina’s detection abilities reduces the number of samples that need to be sent to labs for testing and presents a more effective case in court when prosecuting an individual in court.
“Not many people want to go up against a dog,” Martinson said.
In a demo shown at the City Council meeting, Celina was able to detect three drops of an accelerant placed on a carpet patch downwind from her on the other side of a soccer field.
“It can be overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day, it’s such a great program,” Martinson said.