These Noses Know Arson: Congratulations to State Farm® Arson Dog Program Class #51
Many people assume arson fires do not affect them if the fire did not damage their own property. However, arson fires can have a significant impact on the property values of all neighborhood structures. This crime results in increased taxes to support law enforcement and fire departments. Indirect impacts like lost jobs, lost property tax revenue, and tax dollars spent to investigate and prosecute arson cases push arson costs even higher.
As the nation’s largest homeowners’ insurer, State Farm is well aware of the severity and impact of arson on businesses and public safety. That is why State Farm funds the acquisition and training of accelerant detection canine teams. Commonly called arson dogs, more than 400 teams have been created since 1993. The teams conduct fire investigation in 45 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia. Outside of state or federal agencies, no other company in North America provides arson dog program funding.
An arson dog is one trained to detect and locate trace amounts of ignitable liquids. Things like gasoline, turpentine, and other flammable solvents are used to start fires. The use of arson dogs significantly aids law enforcement and fire investigation. Arson dogs save time and money by pinpointing sample collection locations.
Labrador retrievers are the arson dog breed of choice. Their curiosity, high energy, and tracking ability helps them quickly adapt to the training and socialization. Arson dogs are often “career change” or “second career” canines. They come from animal shelters, guide dog or disability programs and animal rescue organizations. Perhaps not suited for a companion or guide dog program, they did have needed skills for another job. In essence, these dogs have a second chance to serve their communities.
Being a dog's human handler is an enormous commitment. Even on days off or during vacations, they still have to train in order to feed their dog. Unlike a typical dog owner, these men and women can’t simply put down a bowl of food. Their canine partners are trained with food rewards. This means the handlers must run training drills multiple times daily to feed their dog and then document this training in detail.
For more information about the State Farm Arson Dog Program, visit www.arsondog.org.
Congratulations to the sixteen new K9 crime-fighting teams! Learn more about each of the teams below.
Captain Robby Simpson and K9 Sonny
Phoenix Fire Department (Phoenix, AZ)
Captain Robby Simpson is a fire investigator and medic with the Phoenix Fire Department. Captain Simpson spent 28 years on a fire truck before becoming a fire investigator and has always dreamed of working with an accelerant detection canine. This is his first canine partner and the fourth team trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program for the City of Phoenix. In fact, the first arson dog team for the Phoenix Fire Department was trained through the program 26 years ago in April 1993.
Investigator Jodie Grisdale and K9 Willow
Calgary Fire Department (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
Fire Investigator Jodie Grisdale has been with the Calgary Fire Department for 12 years. She has been a fire investigator for two years. When she joined the Inspection and Investigations department, her dream was to work with an arson dog. In April 2019, her dream came true and she is now certified with K9 Willow. While this is her first canine partner, it is the third team trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program for the City of Calgary.
Inspector Joseph Cox and K9 Camy
St. Lucie County Fire District (Port St. Lucie, FL)
Inspector Joe Cox is a Fire Investigator/Inspector with the St. Lucie County Fire District in southern Florida. He has worked for the Lucie County Fire District for 22 years and spent the past four years investigating for the St. Lucie County Fire Marshal's Office. Prior to entering the Fire Marshal's Office, Cox was a Firefighter and Paramedic. This is his first canine partner and the first for the department.
Investigator Matt Huffman and K9 Shay-Ley
Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office (Jacksonville, FL)
Investigator Matt Huffman has been a Detective/ Fire Investigator with the State of Florida Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosives Investigations Division for a little over two years. He is currently assigned to the Jacksonville office but covers numerous counties in northeast Florida. Investigator Huffman retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in 2016 after 25 years of service. This may be his first canine partner, but he joins five other certified teams with the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office that are trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. Since 1998, 23 teams have been trained for the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office through the State Farm Arson Dog Program.
Investigator Bobby Joe Brown and K9 Sasha
Illinois State Fire Marshal (Springfield, IL)
Arson Investigator Bobby Joe Brown is with the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal. He began his fire service career in 1991 as a volunteer firefighter before being hired full-time in 1995. He was promoted to Fire Captain/Paramedic and continued that role until 2004 before becoming Fire Chief of the Beardstown department. In 2008 he left the department to become a fire investigator. This is his first canine partner. Bobby Joe and K9 Sasha join seven certified teams actively investigating fires for the State of Illinois who were trained through the State Farm Arson Dog program. Since 1993, 22 teams have been trained for the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office through the State Farm Arson Dog Program.
Special Agent Greg Vespa and K9 Ross
Illinois State Fire Marshal (Springfield, IL)
Special Agent Greg Vespa is with the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal, covering the Greater Metro East area of Southern Illinois, more commonly known as the East St. Louis area.
Most of Greg’s career has been in Law Enforcement, with some volunteer fire service and full time paramedic service in there as well. He joined the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office in 2006 and during his time as a special agent, has worked three other accelerant canines. K9 Ross is his fourth partner. Greg and K9 Ross join seven certified teams actively investigating fires for the State of Illinois who were trained through the State Farm Arson Dog program. Since 1993, 22 teams have been trained for the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office through the State Farm Arson Dog Program.
Search and Rescue Program Manager Lillian Hardy and K9 Misty
Indiana Department of Homeland Security (Indianapolis, IN)
Lillian Hardy has been involved in search and rescue since 1981. She started as a volunteer working with Civil Air Patrol in California and has served as a Los Angeles Chapter Disaster Assistance team member of American Red Cross; director and founding member of Illinois Search and Rescue, member of Midwest Search dogs in Indiana and has served as a regional representative for the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) and has worked as an EMT/Paramedic. Since 1993, Lillian has been a certified master canine trainer through National K9 training center and since June 2004, Lillian has been the Search and Rescue Program Manager for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. This is her first accelerant detection canine partner and she will have the entire state of Indiana as her territory.
Operator Ryan Percle and K9 Dakota
New Orleans Fire Department (New Orleans, LA)
Operator Ryan Percle is a fire truck engineer with the New Orleans Fire Department and has been with the department for 21 years. While this is his first arson canine partner, his dog is a veteran. Ryan and his family took in K9 Dakota after her previous handler was unable to continue the program several years ago. K9 Dakota was trained through the State Farm Arson Dog program in 2015 and then again in 2019.
Captain Justin Shea and K9 Linus
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS (Lanham, MD)
Captain Justin Shea is with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department and has been a member of the department for 14 years. He spent the first seven years of his career riding a fire truck and ambulance before joining the Fire Marshal’s Office, where he has investigated fires for the past seven years. This is his first canine partner and they will investigate fires east of Washington, DC.
Lieutenant Craig Matthews and K9 Sowell
Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (Marriottsville, MD)
Lt. Craig Matthews has been with Howard County Fire and Rescue for 18 years. This is his first canine partner and the fourth team for Howard County trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program. Lt. Matthews and K9 Sowell are replacing the current canine team in Howard County, Lt. Carlton Saunders and K9 Jet., who will retire at the end of 2019. Their investigation territory includes Columbia and Baltimore City in Maryland.
Investigator Solomon Rosman and K9 Reeves
New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office (Concord, NH)
Investigator Sol Rosman is with the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office and has a lengthy career as an EMT, paramedic, police officer, firefighter, and fire investigator. Rosman began his career as a first responder while at college when he became an EMT. He spent several years as an EMT before moving to New Hampshire and becoming a paramedic. He also became a part-time police officer and worked for a few small towns before attending the police academy. Prior to joining the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office three and a half years ago, Rosman was a firefighter and paramedic for eight years. This is his first canine partner and the 9th canine team for NH SFMO. In fact, the NH SFMO has been in the program since the very first training class in February 1993.
Detective Michael Burns and K9 Dodger
City of Pittsburgh Police Department (Pittsburgh, PA)
Detective Mike Burns has been an officer with the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police since 1993. He was assigned to the Fire Investigation Unit in 2000 and has been with the department Bomb Squad for the last 12 years. This is his first canine partner and they will be investigating fire scenes in and around the city of Pittsburgh.
Arson Investigator Peter Sword and K9 Wizard
Providence Fire Department (Providence, RI)
Arson Investigator Peter Sword is with the City of Providence Fire Department in Rhode Island. He has been a member of the department for 27 years, spending most of that time on engine companies with a two year stint on rescue in between. He transferred to the fire investigation unit five years ago before being promoted to Arson Investigator. This will be his first canine partner and he will replace the retired team of Sean Reddy and K9 Tyler, also trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program.
Lieutenant John Perry and K9 Sam
Burton Fire District (Beaufort, SC)
Lt. John Perry is a fifth-generation firefighter who has worked as both a volunteer and career firefighter in his 30-year career. He is currently assigned as a Lieutenant on the busiest engine company in the Burton Fire District. Lt. Perry has spent the last 15 as a fire investigator and the past four years as a handler for Arson K9 Abby, who retired in April 2019. K9 Sam will replace K9 Abby investigating fires in the Bluffton, Beaufort, and Hilton Head areas in South Carolina.
Investigator Ashley Bowen and K9 Liberty
South Padre Island Fire Department (South Padre Island, TX)
Investigator Ashley Bowen has been in the fire service for seven years, and with the South Padre Island Fire Department for four years. She has been a fire investigator for a little over a year now and was recently promoted to fire inspector. This is her first canine partner and the first for the department. Ashley and Liberty have a very large territory of more than 15 counties in southern Texas, extending from Brownsville to Corpus Christi.
Assistant Fire Marshal Chris Persons and K9 Pyper
Hampton Fire Marshal’s Office (Hampton, VA)
Assistant Fire Marshal Chris Persons is with the Hampton Division of Fire and Rescue located in Virginia. He began his career in the fire service as a volunteer prior to becoming a career firefighter. He has been a firefighter for the past six years and this is his first canine partner. Chris and K9 Pyper have big shoes to fill. They are replacing Jesse Gomes and K9 Taylor, who have been investigating fires in the Hampton/Newport News area in Virginia since completing their training in the State Farm Arson Dog Program in 2008. This is also the 4th team trained for the Hampton Fire Department through the program. The first team was trained in 1998.
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