Hello, Bingo: Arson-sniffing dog is on the case

MARSHALL, MICH. - A new nose is available for fire investigations in Calhoun and five surrounding counties.

The Marshall Fire Department has added a sniffer dog and on Friday Bingo, a 2-year-old female black Labrador and his handler, Lt. Matt Parks, were introduced at a program held at the city's fountain and fire station.

"This is just a huge day for the city of Marshall," Mayor Jack Reed told about 75 people at the noon program.

Behind Reed were members of several fire and police departments from Calhoun and five other counties that can request Parks and the dog to assist with fire investigations.

State Farm Insurance provided $25,000 for the purchase of the dog and training at Maine Specialty Dogs in Brunswick, Maine. The fire department will provide ongoing training, food and veterinary care, although Marshall's Director of Public Safety, Jim Schwartz, said most of the food and vet services are being donated.

Chris Cressy, a State Farm Insurance vice president, said arson is a huge problem in the United States.

"It costs billions of dollars every year due to people burning stuff down," Cressy said. "Each person with our company has to pay $200 to $300 more a year on their policies because of arson. And we want to do something about it."

Since 1993 State Farm has sponsored 360 dogs in 44 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces in the  Arson Dog Program; 91 are now active including two others in Michigan. Dogs from the program are assigned to sheriff departments in Kent and St. Clair counties.

The Michigan State Police Fire Marshal's Division also has accelerant-sniffing dogs, which have been used by many local departments to assist investigations.

Schwartz said Parks and Bingo will respond to assist fire departments in Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Barry, Jackson, Branch and Eaton counties. The dog is trained to find traces of accelerant or to determine if none was used, he said.

"The dog is a tool that can save a lot of time and energy and focus investigators in the right direction," Schwartz said. "I look forward to working with other agencies and I think Bingo will be very busy."

Fire officials were not sure how many fire scenes will be investigated by Parks and Bingo, but Schwartz some fire chiefs have said they will request the dog for any major fire.

"Some want to run the dog through all the scenes to rule (arson) out," Parks said. "We are assisting with the investigation, looking for samples and telling the investigators where the samples are and they are securing the evidence and the labs will test it."

The city began the application process in 2014. Parks went to Maine for five weeks in May to train with the dog. He said about 80 percent of the training was completed before he met the dog.

"Then they are training the handler, or the dope at the other end of the rope, to work with the dog," he said, "so I recognize her alerts and she has confidence that I recognize her alerts."

He said Bingo is expected to work six to eight years. "Then as they get older their senses become less active and less fine tuned," he said. "Then she will be retired and she will be our pet."

Battle Creek Enquirer


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