A NEW breed of firefighters is putting out flames fashionably, kitted out in cute shoes.
Etta, Aston and trainee Sox are ‘hydrocarbon detection dogs’ who enter dangerous buildings to check for flammable liquids, always while wearing colourful dog boots for paw protection.
There are 17 fire investigation dogs across the UK and now two Yorkshire-based firemen, Mike Shooter and Jon Willingham, have set up non-for-profit company, K9 FI, which provides their hydro dogs to the fire service and the police.
The specially-trained animals enter buildings wearing their durable, protective boots when fires have been put out and have cooled down.
They are trained to detect various fuels as well as a number of fire starters used to ignite hearths and barbecues.
The dogs then mark a find by scratching before firefighters then remove the flammable substances or sample them for laboratory testing.
Despite their safety shoes, Mr Shooter, who owns and works on the job with Labrador Etta, said the dogs are still walking into dangerous situations.
He said: “There are always risks and dangers to the dogs when they go into a building because of the debris.
“The amount of glass and fragments on the floor mean the dogs always have to enter buildings with their protective boots on.
“They have to be trained to wear the boots because a lot of dogs don’t like things on their feet so that does form part of their training.
“We are also trained in first aid so that we can help the dogs if they get into trouble.”
The idea of hydrocarbon detection dogs started in America in the 1980s and came across to the UK in 1996 with the first dog called Star.
Slowly the idea has been spreading and Etta and springer spaniel, Aston, who belongs to Jon, attached themselves to Humberside Fire and Rescue Service in Hull, last February.
Mr Shooter said: “The dogs are trained for six weeks with dogs who are trained to work in the police.
“The process is the same, they are just trained to recognise different smells.
“Etta and Aston were part of an intense six-week course and both Jon and I had to train with them because it’s important for us to develop a relationship with the dogs.
“We then work with them on all jobs.”
Mr Shooter added: “Everywhere I go, Etta goes. We’ve developed a close bond which is really important and a lot of the training is about learning to identify the body language of the dogs.”
As part of K9FI, Mr Shooter and Mr Willingham have been called to five other areas with the dogs to assist in situations and are hoping to expand their services to the whole of Yorkshire.
They are also training up cocker spaniel puppy, Sox to eventually become a hydro dog.
Mr Shooter said: “We’ve started training Sox up and he’s coming along quite nicely.
“It’ll be good to have another dog in case Etta or Aston become injured or unwell.”