New Orleans Fire Department members recently gathered to welcome the newest member of their firefighting team, Dakota, a specially trained K-9 arson dog. His handler, NOFD Capt. Michael Ebbs, ran Dakota through an obstacle course and demonstrated the dog’s ability to discover evidence.

The NOFD received an Arson Canine Training Scholarship from State Farm Insurance Company which allowed Ebbs to complete a five-week Canine-Accelerant Detection School sponsored by State Farm and certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Since its beginning in 1993, the program has placed more than 350 dogs in 44 states, three Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia.

Dakota is 2 years old and was originally trained to be a guide dog for the blind. Due to her high energy level and strong work ethic, she was “career-changed” and is now trained to detect the presence of accelerants.

Ebbs and Dakota completed 200 hours of training together in Maine with Paul Gallagher and the Maine Specialty Dogs before being certified by the Maine State Police as an arson dog handler.

There are 85 active teams trained through the program. Ebbs and Dakota join three active teams trained through the same program in Maine who are at work with the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal.

Along with a food reward system, love, respect and praise are a great part of the training process. Handler and K-9 are certified as a team, not as individuals.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2009, more than 41,500 fires were intentionally set in the United States, causing more than $792 million dollars in property damage and killing 170 civilians.

“We want to help support the efforts of the New Orleans Fire Department to douse arson fires in the New Orleans area and put criminals behind bars,” said State Farm Spokesperson Roszell Gadson. “The scope of arson goes beyond impacting insurance companies — it affects the personal and financial well-being of us all. Training dogs to detect accelerants at fire scenes saves time and money in arson investigations.”

A few years ago, investigators could spend days or weeks sifting through rubble at a scene. Today, with a trained dog, the work can be done in less than an hour.

“I am very pleased to welcome Dakota as the newest member of the New Orleans Fire Department,” said Timothy McConnell, superintendent of the New Orleans Fire Department.

For information about the Arson Dog Program visit arsondog.org.