Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service has 'employed' Ben as a fire investigation dog. Here Ben is pictured with his handler Peter Abbs. Picture: Ian Burt

Video: Watch Ben the arson detecting dog in action

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
2.20 PM

He is quick, always ready for action and can find the cause of an arson attack in seconds.

But he is not a firefighter: he is Ben – the three-year-old cocker spaniel who is Norfolk Fire Service’s first dog trained to sniff out whether fires have been started deliberately.

He worked for two months with handler Peter Abbs, 47, Dereham station manager and member of the Norfolk Fire Investigation Team, and has been going out to fire scenes since July.

“It is all a big game for him,” Mr Abbs said. “Everyone loves a dog and he is a big draw but he is a one person dog.

“He is not bothered about pats and cuddles. He knows when he gets his harness on he will work.”

Ben was already trained as an accelerant detection dog with a private company in Bedfordshire. He has a special harness so he cannot fall from high locations and shoes so he cannot damage his paws.

“I will not put him into a fire scene where there is any danger of hurting himself or myself because where the dog goes, I will go.

“I take him on and he takes me on. It is a two-way thing,” Mr Abbs added.

To train him in his role initially, Ben had to find balls with a range of flammable fluids on them.

And training is a two way thing.

Mr Abbs added: “The biggest thing for me is learning how his body language changes when he is narrowing on the scent.”

But the firefighter said it was important to know when to remove him from a building, vehicle or outdoor area if he was overwhelmed by a particular smell.

“He is very quick – 99pc of the time he will find the most minute of flammable liquids,” Mr Abbs said.

Ben is trained to pick up 12 substances, including petrol, diesel, white spirit and barbecue fluid, and can find individual scents as well as a combination of fluids up to seven days after a fire has been put out.

Since starting in July, Ben has gone to three incidents, in one of them discovering two separate spots of liquid on a sofa after a flat caught fire.

Mr Abbs said in what would take a person two hours to discover, Ben could find in seconds, which speeds up the whole process.

The Norfolk fire service is one of 17 in the country which has a fire investigation dog and there are plans for Ben to be used in the regional fire investigation team covering Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire.

These dogs are generally labradors or spaniels and they can work until they are nine years old.

For a video of Ben in action see our website www.edp24.co.uk.

sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk