Arson fighting dog joins Columbia Fire Department

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COLUMBIA - An arson fighting pup by the name of Izzo is joining the Columbia Fire Department in its fight against property fires in mid-Missouri.

The three-year-old Golden Retriever/Black Labrador mix, sponsored by State Farm's Arson Dog Training Program, is trained to sniff out accelerants that may have been used to start fires. Izzo is one of 12 trained arson dogs activated through the program this past April, and is the first of his kind in mid-Missouri.

Partnered with Izzo is Columbia Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal, Jim Pasley, who spent over a month training with Izzo at the New Hampshire Fire Academy. When Pasley is called to investigate a fire, Izzo comes with. Walking through the remains of a fire, Pasley has Izzo sniff around. If Izzo smells an accelerant, he sits down to signal to Pasley he has found traces, and is then rewarded with a treat.

"They [dogs] are a smelling machine. That's why hunters use them, that's why we use them. They get their nose to the ground and that is what he is looking for. So that is the principle between the food reward and the fuel. 

According to Pasley, Izzo helps speed up the investigating process.

"If he goes in and one to two minutes sits somewhere, now I am digging there," Pasley said. "I'm going to start in that spot. That gives us a better and more positive sample." 

So far Izzo has been on the job in Columbia for about a month and has gone to two fires. Pasley anticipates Izzo to be used in investigations at least 50 times a year, and said he will be available to assist surrounding counties in the state when requested.

When not on the clock, Izzo lives with Pasley and his family.

" He actually really good at home. He is just another family pet when he is at home. When he is not and you put the vest on, it's time to go to work," Pasley said. " I have a one year old at home as well. I tell people it's like having two one year olds at home. You know you are cooking and you look over and the one year old is in the cabinet, the dog is on the other side."

The process for getting an arson dog for the Columbia Fire Department began a couple back when the department began filing an application for one with State Farm. According to Jim Camoriano, spokesperson for State Farm, the application process includes review of the geography of the departments, as well as of the number of property fires documented in the area.

"What we've found is that four paws and a wet nose is sometimes all you need to do to fight crime," Camoriano said.

Izzo will be recertified on an annual basis.