The inaugural Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Canine (K9) Handler course was held earlier this year. It produced 11 star graduates, accompanied by their four legged friends.
The DFES USAR K9 unit is deployed to assist in the search for live people trapped in man made or natural disaster situations, such as collapsed buildings, in Western Australia as well as interstate if required. K9 teams are deployed with USAR technicians for cyclone response, ensuring they are immediately available to search if the need arises.
Deputy Commissioner Steve Fewster said it was a great step forward for DFES to be implementing a more formalised K9 training package.
“This course ensures that volunteers start off with all the help and information they need to become qualified and successful K9 handlers,” Deputy Commissioner Fewster said.
The new course has been developed over the past two years by Senior Firefighter Serena Monks, who has researched methods to improve the selection and training process of canines and their handlers, with a view to providing volunteer K9 handlers with a higher level of training.
The result is a modular training package with incremental steps, designed to transform suitable canines into top level search and rescue dogs, and to equip handlers with the skills they need.
Serena said she worked closely with Cockburn Sound District Officer Peter Sutton, responsible for the formation of DFES USAR K9, and officers from the WA Police Canine section in the formation of the course and the techniques involved.
“Throughout the four days of training there was a focus on canine selection, understanding canine behaviour, training methods and the requirements necessary to achieve operational standards,” Serena said.
“Another major component was learning about how dogs scent and how to work as a scent search specialist.
“On the last day, Dr Dave Neck of Cottesloe Animal Hospital instructed everyone in canine first aid and health care.
“The course was very well received and everyone said they learnt a great deal from both the theory and practical sessions.”
As part of the training package the K9 handlers will have ongoing assessments for up to two years before the dogs are considered operational.
The training package is based on information gathered from Serena’s skills as a canine handler and trainer, as well as from existing best practice around the world. Liaison was also undertaken with other agencies such as Customs and the Special Air Services Regiment.
A second course will be run later in the year to coincide with the next recruitment round.