Posted by Dick Hall

Mark Roberts, a police officer for 18 years and now a Senior Fire Investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) along with his Accelerant Detection K9 partner Deacon, gave a fascinating talk about their work.

Deacon is a 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, who works with Mark as part of the investigation in the State of ME Fire Marshall’s Office. Maine has 500 fires annually, and with 12 investigators, reviews 150-200 possible arsons. Maine typically has 11-21 fire-related fatalities per year. Investigations often focus on accelerants, and K9s are trained and certified for 50-60 different accelerants. After the dog detects, confirmations of the chemical are done by the Maine lab. The dogs provide evidence in the investigation and can quickly work a large area in 2-3 minutes.

We were surprised to learn that Deacon is trained using his basic hunting instinct. He finds accelerants and earns his food doing so. His only food is given when he works. This means he  trains every day, when not actually working a fire scene. He is a very happy dog, as dogs love to work.

Science has demonstrated that dogs have 220 million olfactory sensors while humans have only 5 million. 1/8 of a dog’s brain is dedicated to scent determination and scent discrimination. Dogs smell things independently and can keep the layers separate. Deacon does not smell pizza, he independently smells crust, sauce, cheese, meat etc. Dogs are entirely unbiased, so he makes objective decisions all the time. People are more trusting of the investigations by dogs than by people. 

State Farm Insurance pays for the Arson Dog Program which was established with the Maine State Police under the guidelines of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. The Maine program is the longest running and one of only two arson training programs in the country. All dogs are second chance, second career. Deacon failed as a disability dog as he was too high energy, but that made him well suited as an arson dog.

Labrador retrievers are used as there is no worry about dog bites, people are comfortable with Labs, and Labs can scent the crowd to detect bystanders who may have accelerants. There is still no technology yet to replace dogs.

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(Photo L-R: PP Bob Traill, President John Curran, Officer Mark Roberts and his K-9 partner, Deacon.)