Eight dogs in Phoenix have been through years of specialty training to find live and deceased people buried in rubble and that training is going to good use as two of the dogs are currently helping in Snohomish County, Wash.
The Arizona Task Force One, an urban search and rescue team, uses dogs that go through training every week to use their noses to find human remains and live humans in disaster situations. The two dogs that have been deployed to Washington to help with the mudslides are Human Remains Detection dogs.
“Dogs are a great tool,” said Adam Skiver, Phoenix firefighter and canine search specialist. “They have a great nose. They smell about 25,000 times better than we do. They can identify people that we cannot see or find.”
Skiver said even through mud or water dogs can still smell.
The dogs in Arizona Task Force One begin training as puppies. The Phoenix Fire Department uses Labradors. They’re taught to play with toys and hunt toys. Eventually, a person hides with the toy and the dog must find it. Over time the dogs are taught not to find the toy but a person, and they know once they find the person they’ll be rewarded.
The training never stops. Each time the dogs come to training the person they are finding hides in a new spot and their reward comes from a different place as well. The dogs spend a minimum of 1,000 hours a year in training.
The “live find” dogs have been used by rescue crews for years and have responded to 9/11 and several hurricanes across the country. The “human remains” dogs are new to the program. This is their first deployment. The two dogs from Arizona are two of 20 human remains dogs currently helping in Washington.
“Sometimes it can be pretty overwhelming,” Skiver said. “There’s so much damage it’s pretty incredible to see it close up. Just like being a part of the fire department and being here in town, we have a job to do. We come across things that are not always pleasant, but we stick to our job. Ultimately, we are there to help people any way we can. That’s what you have to focus on, and that’s what keeps you going.”
When the dogs aren’t on deployment they live with their firefighter handler as the family dog and go to work with them often. They also aid the Phoenix Police Department in their search for missing people at times.
Arizona Task Force One is one of 28 teams stationed around the country. Across the country there are less than 200 live find dogs in the system.
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