Video: Herts Fire and Rescue Investigation Dog Demonstrates His Skills

BOUNDING around the room in the hunt for so much as a tiny whiff of flammable liquid, Herts Fire and Rescue s only investigation dog CC is clearly in his element. Clad in his fluorescent orange harness and fetching red boots to protect his paws, the three

BOUNDING around the room in the hunt for so much as a tiny whiff of flammable liquid, Herts Fire and Rescue's only investigation dog CC is clearly in his element.

Clad in his fluorescent orange harness and fetching red boots to protect his paws, the three-year-old black Labrador and his trainer Nikki Harvey are demonstrating how their important role in investigating potential arson attacks works.

A somewhat sleepy CC had emerged from the back of Nikki's van minutes before he was called upon to showcase his skills but the instant he caught a glimpse of his harness he was ready to swing into action.

Nikki had already planted three cottonwool buds scented with a few drops of accelerant in different places around the large conference room at the Longfield Fire and Rescue Training Centre in Stevenage, where I went to meet the pair last week (17/12).

And as we reached the door of the room with CC, he could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of being unleashed to sniff out any of the 12 smells he is trained to detect - from petrol and white spirit to paraffin.

"As soon as he sees his orange harness it triggers his work mode - although, he doesn't know its work, he just thinks it's fun," said Nikki who joined forces with CC in 2006 at which time they were both new to the job. They also live together and CC shares a kennel with his stay-at-home canine companion Barney.

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Nikki continued: "You can tell he loves it by his body language; he is really alert, his ears prick up and his tail is wagging for England, he is just so excited."

Like a whirlwind, CC located all three scents in the room within minutes, eagerly looking up at Nikki and then pointing with his nose to the precise spot where she had hidden the cottonwool buds. I really was blown away by his intelligence and dedication to the task.

He does have an incentive though - he is often rewarded for his efforts with what is the equivalent of gold to most dogs; a fresh, green and bouncy tennis ball.

"If only people would work that hard for a tennis ball," joked Nikki, who was formerly a retained firefighter in Hitchin and a fire control centre worker.

As a young puppy CC's early training involved finding tennis balls in a room and scents of accelerant were gradually worked in alongside so that he associated the two.

His trainer then took away the tennis balls but rewarded him with one every time he successfully sniffed out a substance.

In total, CC spent around eight months in training before starting work with Nikki and replacing the first Herts fire dog who had been working since 2001.

They now attend every fatal fire and the majority of the county's serious blazes, which included this year's Verulam School fire. Being the only such partnership in the whole of East Anglia - all thanks to the generous donations from Computer Centre in Hatfield which CC is named after - they also assist other counties where possible.

Without a dog like him, Nikki explained that establishing if accelerant has been used in a fire is predominately left up to guesswork.

At fire scenes Nikki and CC will work alongside a police scene of crime officer and a fire investigator. It's potentially dangerous work and before Nikki lets CC enter any property she conducts a thorough risk assessment and deals with any hazards such as broken glass.

"CC can go in and cover a big area really quickly, he can go through lots of debris and cover everything in a way we which would not be possible without him."

"Work within a fire scene includes working in dark, confined spaces and sometimes the stairs will have collapsed in a fire or be unsafe and we have to enter buildings on the aerial ladder platform, so he has to be used to heights."

CC's sense of smell is so precise that he can detect as little as 10 microlitres of an accelerant (the equivalent to one or two drops) and he can even distinguish between the almost identical smells of hydrocarbons from a burnt plastic bag and those in a flammable substance.

Nikki said it's a great feeling when CC makes a surprise discovery and detects accelerant at the scene of a fire which is thought to have started accidentally. He also found a dead body on one occasion even though he isn't trained to do so.

When he isn't rooting around a fire scene, CC spends most of his time at the training centre where Nikki is continually honing his skills so that he stays at the top of his game.

But it's never a chore for either, as they both clearly love what they do and the extent of what they can achieve together is incredible.

Nikki added: "The first time I saw him work I was amazed and I'm still in awe of what he can do. Working with him has been amazing, especially when we get big the successes as it makes all the ongoing training and hard work worthwhile.