Accelerant Detection Canine Program

Fire and Rescue NSW runs a nationally-leading accelerant detection canine program, the first of its kind for Australasian fire services.

Accelerant detection canines and their handler can cover large areas quickly to narrow down the area for frontline firefighters to undertake fire origin and cause analysis.

The results of their discoveries at the fire scene can then be used by Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Police and the Coroner’s Office.

The Fire and Rescue NSW K9 project started in 1995 with Sabre, a German Shepherd. Sabre was followed by a black Labrador, Kova, who served from 1996 to 2000. Then came Ellie the golden Labrador, who was donated by Australian Customs Service in 2000 and worked with Station Officer Phil Etienne. Ellie was able to quickly and accurately establish or dismiss whether a liquid accelerant has been used or not (this ability has been evaluated and confirmed by a doctoral thesis research project and an honours thesis research project undertaken by forensic science students with the University of Technology, Sydney). Ellie retired from active duty in June 2008 to enjoy a new life of leisure.

FRNSW now has three canines on active duty who attend an average of three jobs per week with their respective handlers.

Fire and Rescue NSW are leaders nationally in this field. Accelerant detection canines are 97% accurate and enjoy a high profile within Fire and Rescue NSW and externally as a tool for fire prevention and promotion of community fire safety messages.

With a sense of smell 100,000 times more acute than a human’s, ADCs are able to detect fire accelerant in smaller concentrations than any portable scientific equipment currently available. These talented canines can even be sent into crowds of spectators at large fires to sniff out traces of accelerant on arsonists who have returned to the scene of their crime.

Furthermore, the speed at which the canines cover large areas allows them to efficiently narrow down the area for frontline fire-fighters to begin their fire cause analysis. Their quick noses can cover a scene in less than thirty minutes, saving days of human labour.

The dogs are trained using game play and rewards, with handlers utilising as many different environments as possible, including houses, office buildings, car parks, and bushland, to ensure that the dogs do not become conditioned to only searching in a particular type of scene.