Edmonton firefighters welcome newest K9 member to sniff out flammable liquids

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) welcomed its youngest crew member, trained to investigate with his nose.

Marshal is a 21-month-old Belgian Malinois and EFRS’ newest working K9 trained to sniff out ignitable liquids like gasoline.

“He’s really important to Edmonton Fire Rescue Services, he comes to pretty much any fire where we believe there’s an ignitable liquid that he might be able to find,” said Cpt. Ian Smith with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.

Smith is Marshal’s K9 handler and began working with the four-legged investigator in June. Since then, he says they’ve already built a strong bond.

“Every time we go and train or if we go to a new scene, we seem to get closer and closer all the time. I trust what he’s doing, he trusts me, and we have a pretty good working relationship,” said Smith.

Marshal is one of nine puppies from a litter raised by Alberta K9, a centre which specializing in training dogs to work in roles such as detection, security, and policing.

While Marshal’s name is perfectly suited for his job, his past owners say it was merely just a coincidence.

“It just so happened that Marshals name ended up being Fire Marshal, we didn’t know where he was going to go, the stars just aligned, and that’s where he ended up,” said Kelsey Boettcher, owner of Alberta K9.

Marshal began training shortly after birth with scent association, a process that pairs ignitable liquid and food scents together, so he can associate the smell with reward.

“We teach through scent association, he’s looking for a toy or food – in Marshals case, it’s food all the time – and that’s what he loves to do,” explained Boettcher.

He is the first working K9 trained based on food reward to be used by the EFRS.

On scene, Marshal is suited up with a special vest, letting him know it’s time to get to work. Fire crews then watch for a change in Marshal’s behaviour.

“You’ll see his tail wag,” said Smith. “He might kind of swing his head back and forth until he gets to an area where he knows there’s an ignitable liquid.”

EFRS’ youngest investigator can detect the smell of 12 different ignitable liquids. Smith says while there are machines that can detect ignitable liquids, none compare to a trained dog’s nose.

“A dog’s nose is more than 10 thousand times stronger than a human’s,” said Smith. “I have a whole new appreciation for their talents and what they can do. I’ve had pet dogs before, but having a working K9 is pretty special.”

The career of working K9s can last anywhere between 5 and 7 years, and Marshal’s skills are only expected to strengthen in the coming years. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's David Ewasuk