ATF’s annual K-9 recertification brings fire dogs, handlers to Rapid City

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Just over 60 well-trained canines and their equally well-trained handlers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are in Rapid City for their annual recertification.

The accelerant-detection dog teams are based around the country and help ATF identify accelerant odors in fire investigations. The dogs, all Labrador Retrievers, come to ATF at about 14 months of age and go through 12 weeks of initial training.

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DCI Special Agent Brandon and his K-9 partner, Comrade, conduct a mock search (photo date: April 26, 2022)

They’re trained to smell clothing for accelerants, search buildings to detect if accelerants were used and assist fire investigators in suspicious vehicle fires.

“We teach them investigative techniques on how to search burn structures, vehicles, open areas…if there was an evidence bottle thrown that might have been used to set a fire,” says Shawn Crawford with the ATF National K-9 Division.

ATF uses labs for a specific reason.

“So all we’re using are Labrador Retrievers. We’re using a hunting dog,” Crawford says. “That’s basically what the dog’s doing if it’s working in a fire scene, it’s hunting for the accelerant odor. That’s why we like using labs.”

ATF will be in Rapid City all week working with local law enforcement partners such as the State Division of Criminal Investigation and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

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