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National Arson Awareness Week 2015

Accelerant Detection Canines (ADC) –Sniffing Out Arson.

The U.S. Fire Administration has gathered information about these motivated, accelerant detection animals that demonstrates their value to a community and how using an ADC can close more cases and act as an arson deterrent.


The number of times more acute an ADC’s sense of smell is compared to a human


The average number of minutes it takes an ADC to cover an average fire scene. It can take humans days to do what a dog does in minutes.


The average number of canine team-collected lab samples needed to identify accelerant use, compared to 20 samples collected by a human alone.

Facts about accelerant detection canines
Accelerant detection canines (ADC) are motivated, accelerant detection tools. An ADC:
  • Transforms from a loving pet to an arson detection tool as soon as the handler puts on the food/reward pouch.
  •  Has a sense of smell that is 100,000 times more acute than a human’s.
  • Knows how to work a crowd. At a fire scene, the dog is encouraged to mingle with spectators and give them a good sniff. If the arsonist is in the crowd watching, the ADC will alert to the smell of the accelerant on his or her clothes, shoes or body.
  •  Is unbiased. The dog just sticks to the truth. If there’s an accelerant present, it alerts – simply communicating that something is there (or not there), without any personal bias, prejudice or judgment.
ADCs save time and money. An ADC:
  • Is fast, covering an entire scene in less than 30 minutes. It can take humans days to do what a dog does in minutes.
  • Is accurate. At best, humans can make educated guesses about possible accelerant use and will need to collect an average of 20 samples to send off to a lab for testing. With an ADC, its nose narrows down the guess work, and it winds up taking three samples on average. Higher quality lab samples speed up investigations and result in a higher conviction rate.
  • Helps to rule out arson, allowing a case to close or the insurance claim process to move forward more quickly.
ADCs are valued community members. An ADC:
  • Works and lives with its handler, a law enforcement officer or firefighter trained to investigate fire scenes.
  • Closes more cases and acts as a deterrent resulting in a reduction of the arson problem.
  • Is an excellent addition to any community’s fire prevention and education program. In addition to averaging 90 fires a year, in their off hours, ADC teams head out into their communities to teach fire safety and prevention to kids and adults.

Training for accelerant detection canines and their handlers

An accelerant detection canine (ADC) is trained to sniff out minute traces of ignitable liquid accelerants that may have been used to start a fire. Each dog is part of a team that is comprised of the canine and its handler. The handler is a law enforcement officer who has been trained to investigate fire scenes.
Initial phases of canine training
The training for an ADC begins long before it meets its handler. Training is based on a desired behavior (odor recognition) that brings a desired response (reward in the form of food or play).
  1. The first part of training is imprinting. The dog is initialized by being exposed to an ignitable liquid odor, taught how to alert, and receives a reward.
  2. Next, the dog is taught to ignore normal pyrolysis (burning) products that would be present at most fire scenes. Most ADCs are trained to respond passively to an odor by sitting (alert) until the handler commands “show me,” and the canine will point its nose or pat its paw where the odor is detected.
  3. Once the dog has been exposed to both ignitable liquids and pyrolysis products, the canine is taught to discriminate between these two accelerants and to alert to only nonpyrolysis accelerants.
  4. Finally, the handler is brought in to work with his or her dog on all this, over and over until it’s time to prove themselves through verification and certification.

An accelerant detection canine and his handler in training with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


A dog and handler are involved, either through proficiency testing or working a scene, in over a hundred trials per day. Detailed training records must be kept, and the records are critical in the courtroom. In addition to daily training, the ADC is certified annually. There are several certifying agencies, including:
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
  • Fire K9.
  • Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines.
  • State Farm.

Certification involves double blind recognition odor recognition and search exercise, scoring 100 percent.

On the job training

The training of the canine and handler really never ends. The ADC doesn’t receive food unless it earns it either through rigorous daily testing or while at an investigation. The canines are never fed unless exposed to an ignitable liquid. This is the primary reason that the dogs live with their handlers 24/7 because their training is compromised if they are provided with a bowl of dog food at a kennel or by someone other than the handler through training.

Investigating the scene

Canine teams have proven to be the most effective tool that fire investigators can use to locate accelerants. The fire investigator/handler will assess the fire scene, perform a cursory search for origin and cause, and ensure it is safe before the canine is used.
Once at the scene, the canine will begin its search after being given a command such as “seek,” and it will sniff for the odor of an accelerant. There are two searches: free search, where the dog sniffs randomly, and a directed search, where the handler steers the dog to a specific area that may have been missed.Church Fire Springfield Massachusetts
Church Fire Springfield Massachusetts

If an accelerant is detected, the dog will “alert” its handler by sitting. Next, the handler asks the dog to show the exact source by the command, “show me.” The dog will pat its paw or point its nose at the spot, followed by praise and food (reward) for its work. The investigator or technician will collect the samples identified by the dog, and they will be sent to a lab to confirm the presence of an accelerant.

It is important to remember that the dog is a tool for fire investigators to use in locating the exact spot to collect samples that have a high probability of containing ignitable liquids. Analysis of the sample by a lab is the determining factor that confirms the presence of ignitable liquids.

Accelerant Detection Canines in Suffolk County

Suffolk County Fire Rescue has maintained an Accelerant Detection K-9 unit since 1991. 
Suffolk County’s first dog was a black lab named Ember. Ember was assigned to Fire Marshal Brett Martinez and served from November 1991 until March 1999. It was at that time that the second Accelerant Detection Canine, Cinder, went into service.  Cinder assisted in the investigation of over 300 fire scenes and an ATF National Response Team callout to Reno Nevada. . In March of 2006 the Suffolk County Accelerant Detection Canine Unit expanded to include a second dog. A black lab named LP was assigned to Fire Marshal Don Lynch. LP assisted in several homicide cases throughout Suffolk and Nassau. In November of 2008, Fire Marshal Lynch and LP were called to assist the ATF at a church fire in Springfield Massachusetts. This fire was a direct result of the election of Barack Obama as President and is recognized as the first biased crime resulting from the election of an African American President in United States history. Both Fire Marshal Lynch and LP received awards from the Office of the US Attorney in Massachusetts. LP was the first canine ever to receive this award.

In November of 2007 Cinder retired and was replaced by Jul, a golden lab. LP was replaced in December of 2012 by another black lab named Tiana. Jul and Tiana are still currently serving the residents of Suffolk. Jul and Fire Marshal Martinez have assisted the ATF in Rhode Island. Most recently Tiana and FM Lynch were deployed with the ATF national response team to investigate a fatal fire in Schenectady, NY.

IN 2014 Fire Marshal Martinez was recognized by the ATF as the longest running handler in the history of the Accelerant Detection Canine Program. In addition, Suffolk County has maintained the longest continuous relationship with the AFT since the inception of this program. 

Cinder, LP, Jul and Tiana are all products of the Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown. The Guide Dog Foundation and the ATF maintain a close relationship. When dogs are deemed too inquisitive for guide dog work, Agents and trainers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms evaluate them in Smithtown. Those who are selected are brought down to Front Royal Virginia for training. All dogs undergo extensive training before returning to Suffolk County. 

Fire Marshal Brett Martinez with Jul

Fire Marshal Don Lynch with LPFire Marshal Brett Martinez with Jul