We recently caught up with Mat Dixon who is a Fire Investigation Dog Handler for West Midlands Fire Service.
Mat works alongside his fury colleague Kai. Kai is a 6 year old Belgian Shepherd Malinois and has been with Mat and the fire service since they adopted him from a rescue centre as a puppy.
‘Kai is one of only about 15 dogs nationally that are trained for Fire Investigation Work. This means that he helps us to detect, identify, and ultimately deter, arsonists.’
‘He is conditioned to detect flammable liquids such as petrol, lighter fluid, paraffin etc, used in the setting of deliberate fires. Once we have extinguished the fire Kai can be put to work. He searches the scene for traces of flammable liquid left behind, these traces are often so minuscule that the human nose cannot detect them.’ Explains Mat.
Kai wears a harness and protective boots to keep him safe while he searches, and, if necessary can work on a long search line.
By locating these traces Kai can help to work out if the fire was set deliberately and help to identify the arsonist.
‘As with the Police Dogs, Kai lives at home with me and my family, enjoying all the privileges of a pet dog, he’s a working dog, but to him, work is play, so I’ve not heard him complain yet.’ Says Mat.
The Buddies team came up with some questions to ask Mat and Kai…
What does a typical day entail?
‘A typical day will start with the usual walk in the garden with a shovel and bucket, followed by breakfast, a quick groom and MOT followed by a ‘proper walk’. Following this, it’s off in our specially converted dog van, usually to a fire station for training and admin (every dog handlers worst nightmare!). We might end up doing search training, agility, socialisation, obedience, working at heights etc. That is, until the phone rings to herald a request for the dog team to attend a job.’
‘This can happen at any time, day or night, but is usually just as tea is being dished up, the football is about to kick off, or I’ve just put my running gear on. We respond to these jobs on blue lights, never knowing exactly what we will be dealing with when we arrive. It may be a small bin fire, a house fire or a huge factory, you never know. In addition to this we may find ourselves carrying out a school or care home visit, or giving a demonstration to the Police, other Fire Service or the local WI.’ Adds Mat.
After we’ve finished with our training, or at a scene, I will check Kai over, make sure he’s all ok, then feed, water and clean him up before cleaning his boots etc to ensure we are ready for the next job.’
What’s the best bit about your job?
‘The best bit about my job is an easy one, Kai is my work colleague, he also happens to be my dog and my best mate. Getting to spend all day every day with him is just awesome, seeing the joy he gets from working and seeing the results of what he does, just makes every day the best day yet.’
What’s the worst bit about the job?
‘Seeing the absolute devastation that a fire can bring to an individual or family, it can be horrible sifting through the remains. On a positive, it can be heart-warming to see how families and communities can be pulled closer together as a result of this.’
Do you have any tips for getting into the job?
‘This is a tricky one, there are only about 15 of us in the whole of the UK, so, openings are few and far between. In short, and in most instances, become a Firefighter, become a specialist Fire Investigation Officer, wait for the current dog handler to retire.
I have always worked with and around dogs and prior to taking up this role with the Fire Service I was an RSPCA Inspector. This gave me some great experience, particularly in working with the public and in a courtroom situation.’
A huge thank you to Mat, Kai and the wider team at West Midlands Fire Service for taking the time to speak to us.
If you work alongside a dog, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at Hello@Buddies.co.uk.