Meet the dog who investigates fires and works to keep young people safe

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By Angeline Sneddon

A little dog rescued from a puppy farm is helping to keep people safe after joining a team of specialist investigators at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Phoenix, a two-year-old spaniel, has been trained over the course of the last year to detect scents that can identify the location and cause of deliberate fires.

The canine also takes part in community engagement work to educate young people about the risks of fire setting; he also provides comfort to the victims of traumatic fire.

He was put through his paces by experienced dog handler and fire investigation officer Jonathan Honeyman, based in Glasgow, who said: "Phoenix has come on leaps and bounds since we first started working together.

“It was quite clear very early on that he had tremendous capabilities for helping with our investigations - he can detect the slightest trace of ignitable liquids up to one metre below debris left by a fire. 

“Phoenix can be brought on site hours, days or weeks after an incident to search a wide radius to trace any evidence, which is a huge advantage to us. He is without doubt a valued member of our investigation team.”

The SFRS has already outlined how firefighters were called to more than 1,700 deliberate secondary fires in Scotland between June 24 and August 26, 2019 as it continues to support people to have a #SaferSummer2020.

These fires can cause injury and death, spread to nearby properties, affect local businesses and also threaten wildlife within areas of natural beauty. Parents and carers are encouraged to discuss the dangers of fire setting with young people.

Jonathan added: “Phoenix will work with community action teams to support educational programmes running across Scotland that support disaffected youths who may become involved in antisocial fire related behaviour.

“These locally run programmes involving SFRS staff and our partners are often extremely successful in outlining the dog’s capabilities and therefore driving down fire setting.”

“If he could speak, I am sure Phoenix would encourage young people to act responsibly this summer and avoid putting themselves and communities at risk.”

Phoenix was rescued from the illegal puppy farm in Aberdeenshire in 2017 by the Scottish SPCA following a lengthy investigation which resulted in criminal conviction.

Manager of the Scottish SPCA’s rescue and rehoming centre in Glasgow, Anna O’Donnell, said: “Our team did a fantastic job with Phoenix, who was in our care for 321 days. Phoenix, being a spaniel, is energetic, very clever and obedient so we thought he was the perfect fit for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

“We are pleased to hear that he is now trained and working to keep communities safe by educating young people on fire safety.”

David Dourley, SFRS Head of Fire Investigation, said: “I’m delighted to introduce Phoenix to our communities and I’m sure this valuable and capable resource will assist our FI teams across the country.

“Phoenix not only enhances our fire investigation capabilities at complex fire scenes, but he will support our partners and contribute hugely to community engagement work, also providing comfort and wellbeing support to the victims of traumatic fire.”