For Greg Bozdech, Deputy Fire Marshal and K-9 handler with the City of Pearland, running mundane errands around town with his four-legged partner can quickly turn into what he refers to as “The Buddy Show.” Though well loved, Buddy isn’t a pet.The 6-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador is trained and certified annually in “accelerant detection,” recognizing 14 various substances from gasoline to acetone that are used to commit arson.
As the very first dog used for such duty by the Pearland Fire Department, he far has assisted in the investigation of over 75 fires. When a dog “alerts” during an investigation, he gestures toward the source of the odor and is rewarded – in Buddy’s case, with a red toy and play time with his handler. Since he began working for the city four and half years ago, Buddy has helped put a couple of arsonists behind bars. In fire investigations, there’s no one compelling element, but a combination of witnesses, video, fire patterns and other evidence, Bozdech said.
“There’s not any one thing or sure-fire method,” he said, noting that should a canine alert on a substance such as acetone, it may be nail polish remover that was in the home previously. “It’s more of a puzzle with a lot of pieces that you have to put together,” he said, “but K-9s help a lot.”
Working canines will be spotlighted during this year’s Arson Awareness Week, May 3-8, by the U.S. Fire Administration, which has featured Buddy on its Arson Awareness Week Canine Teams in Action page. In addition, this year Buddy is among a select few nominated for the Humane Society’s 2015 Hero Dog awards.
Meanwhile, out in public, Buddy has drawn more than a few curious questions along with welcomed scratches behind the ears. Children, in particular, seem to be naturally drawn to a friendly canine. And the department quickly became aware that if children perk up at the sight of a dog, the idea of a crime-fighting one is even more fascinating. Enter Buddy’s other job duty – in the public relations and fire safety field.
The department estimates that Buddy sees more than 1,400 children and 1,600 adults a year. Bozdech and Buddy often turn up for presentations at schools, churches and other organizations. “Here recently, we had a grandmother call us to say her granddaughter had gotten home and was practicing stop, drop and roll – and she wanted to thank us for the presentation,” he said. “When we teach 911 and fire safety, I think the kids remember the dog, and retain the message better.”
Off duty, Buddy enjoys the same life as Bozdech’s family pets. The family has a Beagle, Border Collie and cat at home. “I spend more time with him than I do my wife,” Bozdech said. “He comes to work with me; he comes home with me. He goes on vacation with us. He’s a member of the family.”
Dogs such as Buddy usually have a “career” of about 8 to 10 years before retiring, at which point handlers have the option to purchase and keep the dog. For Bozdech, there’s no question where Buddy will go. “He’s part of the family,” he said.
For information and voting on Buddy, visit www.herodogawards.org.