Trainee search dog 'Buzz-ing' with grrreat paw-tential
12 November 2018
Buzz as a young puppy, and with his older brothers, Bramble and Max
Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s (KFRS’) canine crew member, Buzz, is coming on leaps and bounds, as he learns the specialist skills needed to become a search dog with the technical rescue team.
Buzz, a jet black working cocker spaniel puppy, started his basic training seven months ago when he was just six months old. Thanks to the dedication of his handler Andy Parks, is making excellent inroads into his training schedule.
Buzz lives at home with Andy, along with his two-year-old brother Max and Bramble, a 13-year-old springer spaniel. He travels to work with Andy when he is on shift as a KFRS technical rescue technician based in Maidstone.
Once qualified, Buzz will go out with the technical rescue team where needed, to a range of emergency situations, both locally and across the UK, where he will be called upon to detect live casualties in incidents such as building collapses, and possibly even international rescue missions.
Andy and Buzz are following a comprehensive training programme, the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) dog training pathway developed by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Resilience Team. This is made up of 7 seven modules, from basic handling to complex search capability, with a final assessment of competence determining whether a dog can make the grade to become operational.
Andy is very encouraged by the progress of Buzz’s initial training. The pair have developed a close bond which will serve them well as they take on more challenging elements of the training.
Andy said: “Buzz has plenty of energy and a very good temperament. His playful and inquisitive qualities provide the ideal foundation for learning. He loves his toy ball which he is rewarded with when he does what is asked of him. We are currently working on honing his basic search competencies, adding in different distractions and environments for him to cope with, and he is showing much promise for the future.”
Buzz and Andy training at height in Scotland
He added: “Buzz can now respond to a range of signals from me and has been responding well to what has been asked of him so far. The next step is to get him to focus on specific tasks, in the face of multiple distractions, and to teach him to follow a simple set of visual instructions I give him, to prepare him for working in noisy, and potentially chaotic places.”
Such specialist training requires Andy to travel with Buzz to all kinds of locations, often alongside working dogs from other emergency services. Scenarios they’ve experienced so far include working at rubble pile facilities, boat crossings and working at height, gaining essential experience of likely conditions that they will face together in their work to help saves lives.
Andy and Buzz also trains with other technical rescue teams across the UK. They recently visited Scotland Fire and Rescue Service’s training facilities in Glasgow for group training at height, and an Essex Fire and Rescue Service search scenario, which involved a boat transfer. They also work closely with the Kent Police dog unit and other agencies, for familiarisation and socialisation exercises, at shopping centres and other crowded locations.
Buzz is equipped with his own personal protective equipment, including a working-at-height harness and a personal floatation vest, and is soon to get some protective boots. He travels to and from work in an climate-controlled van, with a special ‘K9’ call-sign, and even has his own KFRS photographic identity badge.
Buzz must pass all elements to make the grade, once his bones are considered sufficiently mature to the tough working environment and they have completed the full training programme.
Providing he continues to respond so well, Buzz is expected to graduate by Autumn 2019, when it is hoped he will become fully ‘on the run’.
Andy and Buzz (right of group) with other trainee USAR search dogs and handlers
Further information about Buzz’s training:
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Urban Search and Rescue Search (USAR) dog training pathway is made up of 7 modules with cover the following:
Dog-handler requirements and competencies.
Pre-search training basic obedience and recall, and social and environmental familiarisation, Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Introduction to search training – ‘bark barrels’, open and hidden ‘pop out’ searches, confines spaces.
Basic training – control dog with arm signals, basic blind searching, competence on in rubble piles.
Intermediate search training – more challenging search scenarios, working at height, increased levels obedience training with distractions and ‘emergency down’ command response.
Advanced search training – building complexities, more challenging distractions, longer time periods and more multi-agency exercise scenarios.
Consolidation – five days of tests to determine whether the dog is ready for final assessment.
Final assessment, including two search scenarios, bark alert and obedience.