Lifestyle - August 10, 2017

Orlando Fire Department mourns loss of arson-detecting dog

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Orlando Fire Department’s Arson and Bomb Squad is mourning the death of their furriest member — a black lab named Jessie.

The 8-year-old dog who passed from natural causes last week worked for the department as an arson dog for more than six years, Fire Department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni said.

Jessie was trained to detect accelerants, and would go to the scene of fires to help investigate if flames had been intentionally set. Jessie worked “hundreds” of case, several of which dealt with homicide, Papagni said.

She had a formidable conviction rate — helping prosecutors and her handler, Lt. Ronald Verbal, win every case she worked, Papagni said.

Jessie also helped out neighboring counties including Seminole and Brevard when assistance was needed. Papagni said her special sniffing skill set helped make fire investigations more efficient.

“Jessie contributed to OFD by saving the Arson Bomb Squad countless hours of time and manpower in investigations because of her keen ability and determination to point out suspicious items on scenes,” Papagni said.

The Labrador began her career as a guide dog for the blind. She showed potential with a “willingness to help,” but her active and energetic disposition led handlers to believe she would be better suited for another service job, Papagni said.

Realizing her potential, she was adopted into an arson dog program through Maine Specialty Dogs and began her training.

Jessie was one of more than 380 dogs to complete the program sponsored by State Farm to “combat arson fraud and increase community awareness of the problem,” according to the program’s website.

The Fire Department plans to continue the arson dog legacy. OFD Arson Bomb Squad Lt. Jason Revolt will soon go to Maine for training and bring back a new canine member of the squad, Papagni said. or @CaitlinDoornbos

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