A Whole New Ball Game

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, two extended Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)/canine search and recovery operations were conducted in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. These operations thrust canine teams and non-canine users into close...


In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, two extended Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)/canine search and recovery operations were conducted in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. These operations thrust canine teams and non-canine users into close professional quarters for two or more weeks at...


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Skills maintenance for the canines was also a problem. The canines often alerted on a small piece tissue hidden at the bottom of two houses smashed together. Finding this tissue, if possible at all, required hours of demolition and search. The canines would also alert on areas where remains laid for days during the first operation. The difficulty arose as to how to reward the dog for a possible successful alert, without rewarding false alerts. It became fairly obvious that some canines figured out "the game" and would bark at any and every pile of rubble.

The solution was two-fold; first, prior to the start of the work day, the canines were taken to a structure where a definite find had occurred and given a chance to get one (or more) successful alerts. Any time the handler felt the dog was losing its edge, the team would return to one of these buildings to reinforce their skills. Second, when an alert was given, the dog would be taken a block or so away from the alert and allowed to come back and alert again on confirmed scent, and only then was it rewarded.

A different set of problems existed for SELA TF-1 command staff. For the first operational period, the task force used an Incident Command System (ICS) that some would say is standard for normal fire department operations. During the second operational period, FEMA sent an ICS team from Virginia to assist in the area of ICS for the two weeks its canines was operating in the field. The improvement in the task force's administration and documentation as it pertained to a canine specific recovery operation was phenomenal. There was a distinct lack of knowledge on the part of SELA TF-1 about the certification process of canine teams. This came painfully to the fore when one of the task force members was almost neutered by a canine who felt his forcible-entry techniques to be a threat. When the handler was investigated, it was found that most of the certificates that certified her and her canine were of the online-ICS type. A national standard must be found that certifies canine teams. Many agencies can assist in this endeavor, including the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and others. A canine coordinator must be attached to ICS in the command post; someone who speaks and understands canine issues and who can assist in the coordination of field operations and comfortably handle canine financial affairs.

If your USAR team has not trained with canines, if your team does not understand canine operations or should you find yourself thrust into a canine-heavy operation, you will find yourself addressing many of these issues. It is the hope of the authors that this article will lead you to learn from our mistakes. The best advice we can give is to latch on to a good canine team and work with them whenever possible. Listen to our colleagues in the canine world when they try to explain their special issues and always strive to establish a strong working relationship with your canine folks.

RUEL DOUVILLIERis a captain in the New Orleans, LA, Fire Department, where he has served for 12 years, mostly with technical rescue squads. He is the department's special operations training coordinator and the task force leader of Southeast Louisiana Task Force 1 (SELA TF-1), a Type III urban search and rescue (USAR) team. Douvillier served for 20 years in the U.S. Army as a medic, infantryman and paratrooper and five years as a paramedic with New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. GARY P. SIMON Jr. served for 22 years in the New Orleans Fire Department, with 10 years' service in the Central Business District, 10 years on the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Team and two years on the Hazardous Materials Unit (Tactical Assessment & Control Team). He also was planning section chief with SELA TF-1. Simon is attached to the Gulf States Dive and Rescue Team as a swiftwater rescue technician/instructor with certificates in public safety diver, advanced open-water diver, and basic life support instructor. He is the senior fire protection specialist for DynMcDermott Petroleum Operations Co., the operations and maintenance contractor for the Department of Energy Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Simon has an associate's degree in fire protection technology and is certified as a Firefighter I, II and III, Fire Service Instructor I and II, Emergency Medical Technician-Intermediate, Aircraft Rescue Firefighter Instructor, Hazmat Technician Level, Hazmat Advanced Technician Procedures, Chemistry of Hazardous Materials Module 1A and 1B, USAR-Rescue Specialist, Confined-Space Rescue, High-Angle Rope Rescue Operations, Terrorist Aftermath Rescue Training (TART), Task Force Leader/USAR-FEMA, Rope Rescue Technician-ROCO, and Fire Service Inspector I and II.