Wednesday , June 12 2024

Special Report: Fresno's Fire Fighting Dog

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There is a new member of the fire fighting team in Fresno County. <br /><br />Instead of a helmet, she straps on a vest.<br /><br />Tessa is a specially trained Labrador Retriever. She can sniff out liquids and chemicals used to start fires.<br /><br />This is the nose that knows when a fire has been set on purpose.<br /><br />Tessa is a law enforcement K-9, a highly trained accelerant detection dog. She can tell when a flammable liquid like gasoline has been used to start a fire. <br /><br />&quot;Without a K-9 you have to basically guess where the accelerants might be or the ignitable liquids,&quot; Tessa’s handler, Lee Wilding said.<br /><br />Wilding demonstrated for us just how Tessa finds those accelerants.<br /><br />&quot;I’m going to take just a small amount of accelerant, in this case it’s gasoline, and I’m going to place it in a location somewhere wherever I chose on the carpet,&quot; Wilding said.<br /><br />While Tessa is out of the room, Lee places drops of gasoline on the floor at fire headquarters in downtown Fresno. Tessa is tasked with finding those drops.<br /><br />She searches the room and locates one of those single drops of gasoline. She sits, signaling to Lee that there’s flammable liquid here.<br /><br />Lee and Tessa train like this three or four times a week. The skills, fine tuned in training, are put to work in the field. Lee has been a fire investigator for the past eight years. Now when he responds to a scene, Tessa comes with him.<br /><br />In this case it’s the scene of a two alarm fire. The fire started in a detached garage and spread to two homes. Tessa and Lee are brought in to see if it’s arson, started with a flammable liquid.<br /><br />Tessa doesn’t find any indication of gasoline or other accelerant. <br /><br />Lee and Tessa respond to fires throughout Fresno County. She is part of the Fresno Fire Investigative Strike Team known as FIST. Their work helps build the case to put arsonists behind bars.<br /><br />&quot;When you determine the cause was arson and then on top of that you find gasoline or kerosene or lighter fluid in the area where the fire started it’s pretty hard to dispute that,&quot; Lee said.<br /><br />Tessa was paid for by a grant form State Farm Insurance. She took over for K-9 Callie, a yellow lab, who was a detection dog for eight years. Callie was retiring and Lee wanted to work with a detection dog.<br /><br />&quot;When Callie retired and the opportunity presented itself I jumped on it,&quot; Lee said. <br /><br />There are only five of these accelerant detection dogs in California. And only about 300 in the entire country.<br /><br />Lee and Tessa took over Callie’s old truck. They’re leasing it from Callie’s owner, but would like to purchase it. They’re trying to raise ten-thousand dollars to buy it. Lee uses the truck, outfitted with a special K-9 cooling system to transport Tessa to fire scenes and community events. <br /><br />&quot;Answering people’s questions, introducing her to people and letting the community see what a great resource we have is very rewarding,&quot; Lee said.<br /><br />If you’d like to contribute to the fund raiser contact Lee Wilding at (55) 621-4443 or Leland.Wilding@fresno.gov. <br /><br />And the next time you pass the scene of a fire, keep your eye out for the dog wearing a badge. She just might be your neighborhood’s best friend, putting arsonists behind bars.<br /></div>

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