Arson dog could win Stars of Norfolk award

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service has 'employed' Ben as a fire investigation dog. Here Ben is pictured

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 - Credit: IAN BURT

A young cocker spaniel which has a special talent to detect an arson attack has been nominated for a Stars of Norfolk award.

Ben – who is Norfolk Fire Service's first dog trained to sniff out whether fires have been started deliberately – and his handler, Peter Abbs, are up for the fire service person of the year accolade.

The award is just one of 17 which will be given out to unsung members of the Norfolk community on October 18 at a ceremony in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich.

Other categories include Carer of the Year, Young Person of the Year, Outstanding Bravery of the year, Armed Services Award of the Year and Police Person of the Year.

The cocker spaniel worked with Mr Abbs, 47, Dereham station manager and member of the Norfolk Fire Investigation Team, before going out to fire scenes from July last year.

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'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.

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'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 me, 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.

Mr Abbs said 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 as part of the regional fire investigation team covering Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire.

The person who nominated the pair said: 'Ben has made a big difference to fire investigation in Norfolk.'

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