A nose for fire

The Danish police force has taken delivery of its first two fire […]

May 2016


The Danish police force has taken delivery of its first two fire investigation sniffer dogs. Using their sense of smell, they can find flammable liquids at a fire scene in a few minutes and save both working hours and expensive laboratory tests.

A local police officer, two of the police force’s fire technicians, a fire investigator from DBI, a dog handler and his dog all gathered at a fire scene. First of all, everything was photographed, then the dog was put to work. It is trained to move around a fire scene and go through the ash with its nose lowered. In the space of ten minutes it has been through the burnt-out house and marked where it has found traces of flammable liquid. Now the technicians can secure samples and send them to the laboratory.

This happens around 200 times a year with the two fire investigation sniffer dogs, Dino and Hektor, who have become Denmark’s first two fire investigation sniffer dogs. Prior to their appointment, there was six months’ training for both the two dogs and their handlers, police assistants Vagn Orla Rasmussen and Kurt Hansen.

– We were trained in the technical aspects so that we can secure evidence and good samples from the fire scene. The dogs were trained at the local dog school, where they were trained in the detection and marking of liquids. We also went on a trip to Norway to learn from the Norwegian police, who have had fire investigation sniffer dogs for more than 15 years. There, we trained along with the Norwegian fire investigation sniffer dogs, for example, in a burnt-out property, says Kurt Hansen.

Popular dogs
The two dogs have been in service since February and function as an additional method of investigating fire scenes in addition to fire technicians and DBI’s fire investigators. The dogs live in Fredericia in Danish Jutland, but any police district in the country can use them freely. And they do.

– We are well received by the various districts and they are good at keeping us going. Each dog has around 100 cases a year, says Vagn Orla Rasmussen.

The dogs are popular because nature has endowed them with an incredibly good nose. They can differentiate 2,000 different smells from each other – as well as combinations of the 2,000 smells. They do this with the help of the 50-220 million receptors they have in their nose. By way of comparison, humans have around 5 million. The vast number of receptors gives the dog an outstanding sense of smell which, after expert training, can be used to find traces of flammable liquid extremely quickly – even if the traces have been buried under the ash.

Quicker and cheaper
Previously, fire technicians used their own nose and experience to determine where there was likely to be flammable liquids, after which they took samples from the relevant place. That job has now been taken over by the dogs, so man’s best friend is also the police’s best help in this case. Now, samples are only taken from where there really are traces of flammable liquids.

– Not only do the dogs reduce the time spent at a fire scene, the number of positive samples from the fire scene has also increased while, at the same time, the number of samples taken generally has decreased drastically, explains Vagn Orla Rasmussen.

– This means that the fire investigation sniffer dogs save the police money when there are fewer tests in a laboratory, emphasises Kurt Hansen.

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