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We also created a standard for alerting the canine search teams that included a list of duty positions that are involved in alerting the team, the responsibilities of those positions, the procedures for calling out the team, integrating the team into the incident, conducting the operation, and terminating and documenting the incident.
Need for Decon Policy
Serious questions arose as to hazardous materials concerns for the dogs. A veterinarian, Dr. Lori Gordon, from Massachusetts Task Force 1 was contacted via usarveterinarygroup.org and she in turn contacted several other people who provided the author with a very detailed and informative document with which to produce a decontamination SOG.
In the SOG, we created a “scout” duty position based on experiences in the recovery searches in the Lower 9th Ward. During those operations, the regional USAR team provided members to escort the canine teams to provide protection, forcible entry and cross ventilation to create a better scent flow for the dogs. A training program was generated for this position, and once again, volunteers were solicited. A one-day training program that included a PowerPoint presentation on canine behavior and drive, scent theory, bark and silent alerts, the fundamentals of canine search operations and land navigation was conducted for each of the three department platoons. This portion of the class covered the duties of the scout, which emphasized acting as a second set of eyes for the handler and acting as a liaison between the handler and the incident commander, especially ensuring that the hazardous materials unit is dispatched to the scene and that rehabilitation and decontamination sites are established.
Land navigation is a critical skill for the canine scout. Search paths and alert sites must be mapped, with or without a Ground Positioning System. The course provided an introduction to the easiest form of land navigation: dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is the art and science of getting from point A to point B by noting your direction and distance traveled. A pace count is necessary to keep track of the distance traveled. We measured off 100 meters and had our prospective scouts walk off the distance and record the number of paces it took to cover that distance. They were given the option of counting every pace or every left or right footstep. Our scouts needed a tool to keep track of direction traveled. This required that we teach them to use a compass. A short PowerPoint presentation, based on military teaching, was given, and then the students were turned loose on a compass course to test out the new skills.
The compass course consists of three legs of at least 100 meters length each. The student is brought to a start point by an evaluator and then given the distance and direction to the first point on the course. The student is then given the distance and direction to the next point and so on until completion of the course. One of the legs contains an obstacle that must be navigated around. The students must get to within five meters of the finish point to successfully complete the course. If they do not, they are retrained and retested on a different course.
The new scouts (“dog whisperers”) were then given a demonstration of the canines’ abilities. A quarterly refresher training program has been established and the scouts have been placed on LASAR’s emailing list so that they can attend the Saturday training sessions on a voluntary basis. The Superintendent of Fire has offered to assign NOFD scouts to LASAR handlers on any mission they may accept (and they accept quite a few), whether in Orleans Parish or not.
Two of the department canines were certified by LASAR in December 2010 and, since then, they have been used twice to clear large structure fires. Although we had originally planned to conduct only human remains searches, one of the canines, halfway through the certification process, stopped alerting on cadaver scent and began reacting to live victims. We decided to make lemonade and expand our program to live search as well.
The Superintendent of Fire plans to advertise the team in the local area for use by other agencies. As the teams become more experienced, the program will evolve and the documents and training programs governing the program will change, but even in its current infancy the program is a powerful tool in our rescue/recovery toolkit.