The Rockford Fire Department has a new helping hand to investigate fires. Epi the Arson Dog has already been put to the test several times, in multiple investigations.
“She went to Auburn [University, Alabama] and was born at Auburn University,” Lt. John McGee, Epi’s handler, said.
Epi is a black Labrador trained by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to sniff out anything that could have caused a fire.
Now, she’s on the front lines for the Rockford Fire Department.
“They put out odors and it’s a behavior that she learns very quickly, that she has to pick up on this certain odor in order to get fed,” Lt. McGee said.
Training Epi is an ongoing experience, and on the day we spent with her, she was being put to the test by Lt. McGee, as Fire Recruiter Randy James put three drops of an accelerant on random parts of their carpet, without Epi of McGee knowing the exact spots.
Epi has to use her training to find the exact location of the drops, simulating a real fire scene.
It took her about 20 seconds to find all three.
Each time, she alerted her handler to the accelerant.
“I will take a sample of this with a knife and cut it out and package it and send it off to the crime lab,” McGee said.
Without Epi, it could take fire investigators hours trying to find accelerant that could have been used to start a fire.
“It’s up to us to determine why the flammable liquid was there, and the intention,” McGee said.
Even in an open field, it takes Epi just a few seconds to find evidence, giving these firefighters the upper hand.
“Often times, if it’s an intentionally set fire, you might have evidence down and alley, or the person walked away and Epi can pick up on that,” McGee added.
Epi and her handler do assist other agencies whenever they are requested to help out. She has assisted in 7 arson cases and is responsible for 2 arrests.