The Santa Barbara County Fire Department rolled out new equipment and a vehicle purchased for the Arson Task Force. It is a resource that fire crews — and their four-legged companions — can rely on.
Last October, dozens of people in Santa Maria were left injured and without a home after an early morning arson fire broke out at the Town Center Hotel.
A specially trained, black labrador retriever named Riley was the one that cracked the case.
The lab is brought to the scene of a fire after the ground has cooled and is able to determine if accelerants are present.
Fire Captain and Investigator Howard Orr has been Riley’s handler for the last year.
During a presentation Wednesday, Orr and county fire crews unveiled a new vehicle with a heat detection system that will essentially protect dogs like Riley, who often times have to sit in hot cars as investigators make the initial assessment of a fire.
Once the vehicle sensors hit a certain temperature, the system kicks into gear.
“The vehicle will turn itself on, turn on the air conditioning, honk the horn, which sends me to check on Riley, to make sure it’s safe,” said Orr.
Crews also showed NewsChannel 3 the type of equipment used to help train Riley. There are different cans of evidence with different odors. The dog will go around and sniff out the accelerant.
“We need to aggressively investigate and prosecute arsonists,” said District Attorney Joyce Dudley. “And Riley is going to help us do that.”
Orr and Riley are part of the Arson Task Force which serves San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, as well as other areas, upon request.
Funding for the specially designed vehicle came from an anonymous donor through the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance.