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New recruit has a real nose for trouble

PUBLISHED: 10:14 01 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:03 03 July 2010

THE newest recruit to the county's fire and rescue service might have a wetter nose than most of his colleagues but managers are hoping it will prove an asset in rescue situations.

THE newest recruit to the county's fire and rescue service might have a wetter nose than most of his colleagues but managers are hoping it will prove an asset in rescue situations.

Hooky, a 10-month-old black Labrador, is being trained by Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service to find people trapped in collapsed buildings or transport accidents and help the Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) with other rescue work.

His handler, Steve Polley, a fire service technician with the USAR unit, said: “We've been teaching the dog to locate the handler, and when he finds him his indication is to bark, and when he's barked at least 10 or 12 times, he's rewarded with his toy.”

The training started with Mr Polley teaching the dog to find a toy. Next, he held the toy himself while running, which taught the dog to follow a person.

The dog was so excited about being given the toy that it would bark, and Mr Polley is now developing this training so that Hooky barks when he finds people. It will take around 15 months to train him fully.

Mr Polley said it was important he and Hooky built up a close bond to help them be a more effective partnership, and so the new recruit was currently staying with his handler.

“I'm looking after him and he's living with me at home,” said Mr Polley. “We're out training doing something every day, also doing things like jumping in holes because they sometimes they have to jump up to a window, and he has to be confident with area ladder platforms or on a boat, it's not just finding people in collapsed buildings.

“It is obviously important that Hooky and I build up a close understanding over the coming months to enable us to work as a team. He is already proving a real hit with people and it is now that the hard work begins for both of us.”

Tim Lewis, USAR station manager, said that everyone at the station is delighted to welcome their new recruit, who was named Hooky because of a small turn at the end of his tail, and will be kitted out in small boots and jackets for some jobs.

He said: “Hooky is the final member and completes our team. His job will be hugely important as he will search for casualties and will be deployed to various incidents including building collapses and searches for missing people.

“What Hooky is not is a fire service sniffer dog. Some dogs are trained to help investigate fires by detecting accelerant; Hooky's job is very different although equally as skilled.”

USAR also supports the existing fire and rescue service in Norfolk, taking on tasks such as stabilising buildings. Norfolk's USAR team was established in 2006 as part of the government's national response to the September 11 attacks in New York.

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