They deploy to assist FEMA in disaster zones, often discovering things and performing tasks humans can't. They're the search dogs that makeup Arizona's Urban Search and Rescue Canine team.
More than 30 teams from across the country are taking part in a rescue scenario at Phoenix Fire’s Special Operations headquarters, hoping to achieve credentialing.
“We’re having the FEMA canine certification test, said Captain Dana Medlin of the Phoenix Fire Department. He’s also a canine search specialist with Arizona Task Force One.
“What the dogs will do are getting certified to become FEMA search and rescue dogs,” he said.
In the exercise, the dogs are searching through two rubble piles.
“They have to find four to six victims without alerting on distractions or missing any victims,” said Medlin. “If they do that, they become one of the approximately 200 certified urban search and rescue dogs for FEMA in the United States.”
Team 12's Trisha Hendricks took part in the lifelike exercise to get an idea of what the canines go through to be certified.
We put a 5-year old black lab named J.P. to the test, by hiding out inside a hole under a pile of rubble.
“Usually it’s pretty quick, anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 to 4 minutes,” said Medlin.
About 45 seconds later, we heard J.P. approach the hole and he started barking above.
“J.P., Good boy J.P.! Woohoo!” said Medlin.
The reward is a toy and a hyped-up handler.
“Good job buddy! Woohoo!” he said.
When the dogs prove they can do it? They’re certified to be called upon in a real emergency situation.
“The reward keeps going,” said Medlin. “The handler is going to play with him, let him know that he did such a good job and that’s what keeps him wanting to do it again, to them it’s a game, it’s a game of hide and seek.”
“These canines have been an absolute blessing to our community and it’s helped keep first responders safe,” said Captain Danny Gile of the Phoenix Fire Department. “We’re doing a great job in creating training facilities so that we can utilize those tools better in the future.”
“To them, it’s the greatest thing in the world,” said Medlin.
The search and rescue scenario definitely captures the intensity behind the search process. Disaster search dogs and handlers have been deployed to disasters like The World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina, the mudslides in Washington and the most recent Hurricanes of Florence and Michael.
Visit the Arizona Search Dogs page for more information.