Darlington County Fire adds arson investigation dog to staff - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Darlington County Fire adds arson investigation dog to staff

Cato will assist Darlington County arson investigators with their cases. (Source: WMBF News) Cato will assist Darlington County arson investigators with their cases. (Source: WMBF News)
Audrey posing with Cato, the Darlington County Fire's new arson dog. (Source: Audrey Biesk) Audrey posing with Cato, the Darlington County Fire's new arson dog. (Source: Audrey Biesk)

DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The Darlington County Fire Department has added a new member to its staff – a 1-year-old yellow lab that will assist arson investigators. Her name is Cato and she is now the second arson dog in South Carolina.

Darlington County Fire Chief and handler Ricky Flowers applied for a scholarship sponsored by the State Farm Arson Dog Program trained through the Maine Speciality Police Dogs two years ago.

Six months ago, he found out he got it. The cost for both Cato and the training is more than $50,000 and was totally paid for.

Flowers went to over 200 hours of training in New Hampshire for a month and is back in Darlington to help with arson investigations.

"In the past, it would take us six or eight hours to work through a scene and be able to find if someone used an accelerate and if they did, for us to pull the correct sample to have it sent to a lab or something like that," Flowers said. "Well now she can show us exactly where it’s at, we pull the sample, and we ran her back across it and she shows us we got the right spot."

Cato will not just be used in Darlington County. Flowers said her services will be used all across the Pee Dee region. The scholarship is based on the amount of fires a district responds to.

Flowers said his crews respond to 150 structure fires a year, which is a lot for the area. In this year along, three people have been arrested for arson in Darlington County, he added.

"Hopefully, with Cato in the picture now, we can deter some stuff,” Flowers said.

When arriving to a fire scene, Flowers first does a safety walk-through. He said Cato knows to keep her nose on the ground and sniff out any type of accelerant like gasoline or diesel fuel or anything that can be used to start a fire.

Not every scene is workable for Cato, according to Flowers. He used a hardware store as an example.

“The dog may not be an option because there are all kinds of stuff there that she can pick up on that she doesn’t know is supposed to be there, so she’s going to show me that something is there,” Flowers said.

As it stands, the training continues every day with Cato. One method is putting a burnt piece of wood or carpet inside blocks or on the concrete for simulation. The dog then puts her nose inside to know the difference in fire smells.

A meet and greet with Cato and Flowers will be on Friday at 1 p.m. at the district headquarters on North Center Road. The Chief encourages everyone to come.

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