Arson dog teams with the State Fire Marshal's office engage at suspected arson scenes to help detect accelerants, the presence of which help investigators build cases when fires are deemed suspicious in origin.

Certified arson dog 'Billy,' a two-year-old black lab, and his handler, State Fire Marshal's office arson investigator Deputy Roman Ray, were introduced Thursday as the department’s newest crime fighting team a press conference at the State Fire Marshal's office in Baton Rouge.

The team recently completed certification at the nationally recognized arson investigation training program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, where Billy graduated a five-week accelerant detection class that taught him to sniff out the causes of fires. After the press conference, Ray put Billy through a short demonstration of his accelerant detection skills, locating several accelerants that were hidden beforehand on the lawn next to the office.

The insurance company State Farm funded the acquisition of Billy, and the training program costs for him and Ray. Since 1993, State Farm has funded 325 arson dog teams that have worked in 45 states investigating arson and helping to put criminals behind bars, according to Gary Stephenson, State Farm regional spokesman.

The program through State Farm is available to fire departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States. “The scope of arson goes beyond impacting insurance companies,” Stephenson said. “It directly affects the personal and financial well-being of tens of thousands of individuals every year in our nation.”

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said, “We are very pleased to have Billy join our Department, and believe that he and Deputy Ray will be great assets, in our efforts to fight arson throughout central Louisiana.”

“A few years ago, investigators could spend days sifting through rubble at a fire scene,” he said. “Today, with a trained dog, the work can often be done in an hour or two, in terms of locating accelerant residue, speeding the time of getting samples to the state crime lab, and speeding the whole investigative process.”

In 2012, over 38,000 fires in the U.S. were classified as intentionally set, causing over $660 million dollars in property damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

For more information about the Arson Dog Program, visit the web site www.arsondog.org.