Belleville Fire Department welcomes new arson dog

BELLEVILLE, Ill. – The Belleville Fire Department recently added a new tool to help identify instances of arson, and she is already showing off the skills she learned during training.

Sadie is the new accelerant detection canine with the department. Her handler, Captain Jeff Fabrizio, brought her home Sunday, April 29 after completing a 30-day training program in New Hampshire.

Fabrizio has been with the Belleville Fire Department for 12 years and an investigator for the past year. He began his career in the fire service in 1992 while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Captain Jeff Fabrizio and Sadie

While Fabrizio is no stranger to firefighting, this is his first time as a canine handler. He said Sadie has been training to become an accelerant detection canine for a while so the 30 days of training was more about bringing him up to speed.

"The last 30 days was really for me to meet my new partner, for us to get to know each other, and sort of figure out how we work together," said Fabrizio

The training program, sponsored by State Farm, has been in operation since 1993 in partnership with Maine Specialty Dogs. The program has graduated more than 380 dogs and their handlers to work in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Canada during that time.

Fabrizio said State Farm covers the cost of training for the dogs and handlers because, ultimately, it is a better investment for everyone.

"They have done studies to determine that one claim that isn't paid out as a result of arson, pays for an entire class of 12 or 14 handlers."

Through imprint training, Sadie is able to detect a variety of accelerants from lighter fluid to diesel. Thanks to her keen canine sense of smell, she is able to detect even a single drop of accelerant.

"Man has about five million cells devoted to smell in their nose," said Fabrizio. "A dog has 220 million."

Fabrizio demonstrated Sadie's abilities to our Fox 2 crew recently. He placed one drop of scent in three locations throughout a large garage where fire trucks are stored. Sadie alerted to the scent every time.

These specially trained dogs save departments time and money, Fabrizio said, by narrowing the number of samples that must be collected at a scene and sent to the lab for testing, and by increasing the number of positive test results they receive from the samples they do send.

Just shy of two years old, Sadie was originally selected to be a seeing-eye dog, but her personality proved to be better suited for a world with more action. Less than 48 hours after she arrived at her new home, Sadie was called out to her first scene.

On the morning of Tuesday, May 1, a house exploded in Belleville, leveling it and damaging a neighboring home. Firefighters determined both homes were vacant and no injuries were reported.

Once the fire was extinguished and the scene was safe, Fabrizio and Sadie worked through the scene to determine if an accelerant was used. While the case is still under investigation, Fabrizio said Sadie's performance was "fantastic."

Sadie is a "food reward dog," according to Fabrizio. In other words, she works so she can eat. This means Fabrizio and Sadie must train or work every day, and Sadie is rewarded with food when she correctly alerts.

"She has a couple different alerts," he said. "Her primary alert, if she's in a nice clear area where she can sit down, she'll sit down, she'll look up at me, and she'll nose it and say 'Hey, feed me now.'"

Sadie is not just Fabrizio's new partner at work. She is now a part of his family. There, she is just like any other dog.

"She loves to chase after the ball, and she loves belly rubs."

Besides working fire investigations with the department, Fabrizio said people in Belleville can also expect to see Sadie working her way into the hearts of residents while making appearances in the community and visiting schools.