Arsonists are running out of places to hide as the first fire investigation dog in Essex is hot on their tails
Sprocker Spaniel Fizz is a key part of the fire investigation team in the county, with the ability to search for evidence 350 times faster than a human.
The fire investigation dog forms part of the collaboration work between Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and Essex Police.
Trained by the police dog unit in 2020 to identify up to 30 flammable liquids and solids – many of which are odourless to humans – Fizz now works on criminal investigations where there are suspicions of arson.
Her ability is such that cases which have been deemed accidental by officers have been turned into criminal cases and convictions secured once Fizz has been put to work and uncovered new evidence.
She has found items at significant fires, caused by arson, which were identified as being linked, as well as other items featuring DNA leading to the arrest of suspects – which is vital in the fight to prevent further deliberate fires.
In one case, with Fizz searching a greater area than the minimum required, evidence was discovered 200m away from a house fire which gave information on the perpetrator’s movements which had been captured on CCTV.
Dog handler Graham Currie said: “I was shocked when we worked out the time and money Fizz is saving the emergency services. I knew she would make a difference, but she has far surpassed what even I thought she would achieve.
“We have to sift through a scene to see if there is anything suspicious which could have started a fire. Even when an odourless accelerant has been used, Fizz can find it within 30 seconds. It would take hundreds of personnel to search an area that she can cover very quickly. There have been times where a piece of evidence has had to be tested twice because the trace of accelerant has been so tiny, but it is there, and she was able to sense it.
“It is her sense of smell that is much better than ours. It isn’t her eyes, it’s her sense of smell that’s her biggest attribute.
“Because of Fizz, we can reduce the amount of people needed at the incident, and close the investigation quicker. There have been cases that have been solved purely because of Fizz, supported by the arson taskforce and crime scene investigators. She is helping us to do a more thorough job as a team.”
With an established dog unit within Essex Police, Fizz can be certificated each year inhouse.
Graham’s long-term hope is to create a dedicated team of fire investigation dogs to offer cover across the county 365 days of the yea
r. Currently Graham has three fire investigation and search dogs – Fizz, Jarvis and Bailey – who are all part of the Urban Search and Rescue Team.
As part of a partnership, Fizz is called upon to help in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Herefordshire and Bedfordshire and in return, those counties provide cover – free of charge – in Essex when Fizz is absent.
Graham, who has Fizz as a family pet outside of work hours along Jarvis and Bailey, said: “Fizz is just happy playing her game. She doesn’t look at it as work. That’s what I love, she just plays her game and gets her reward.
“She is such a happy dog and is really loving life.”
- Fizz can search up to 350 times faster than a human. She can cover 1,000sq m in 25 minutes – it would take several days for a human search team
- Since July 2021, Fizz has attended 61 incidents within Essex, plus 15 in other counties
- Government research indicates arson in England and Wales costs £53.8m per week
- Fizz passed her annual relicensing test in August 2022. She completed a series of tasks at the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) site in Lexden and a nearby 22-acre woodland as part of the National Police Chiefs Council’s live Scent and Fire Investigation accreditation