SFR welcomes department’s first K-9 unit

Published 9:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Suffolk Fire and Rescue is celebrating the addition of their new four-legged friend in the fight for city safety.

Knox, a slender German Shorthaired Pointer, joins the SFR staff as the department’s first explosive detection canine. As part of the SFR K-9 Team, Knox will help the department’s efforts to fight recent bomb threats seen at Suffolk Public Schools and also provide security to special events, article searches, and more safety measures. The $8500 needed to bring Knox to SFR was made possible through traffic enforcement funds. arrived from Poland and is currently busy working with SFR Investigator and Inspector Ben DeLugo in a 12-week advanced detection training program.

During a May 17 interview, Suffolk Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief Chris D. Cornwell discussed Knox’s addition to the team and called him an incredible asset.

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“We’ve never had a canine at Suffolk Fire and Rescue and in our Fire Marshal’s Office before, and due to the exponential increase in the number of bomb threats that’s we’ve experienced in recent years, most currently the last year with that increase, we felt the need was nigh to onboard this type of resource to help us mitigate and expedite our response times and time on scene to these types of emergencies,” Cornwell said. “So he’s going to enable us to better serve our public on these types of emergencies, and we’re really excited about that.”

Cornwell emphasized the importance of having a canine at SFR, thanks to their useful animal instincts. 

“The dogs are capable of doing things that we, as humans, aren’t,” he said. “They can see with their noses things that we can’t see with our eyes and smell with our noses. So we utilize them for that purpose and that’s why they’re such an asset to us as tools in our toolbox. So that’s why we’re so blessed to have the opportunity to bring him on board.”

Cornwell says that the name Knox comes from the term “knox box,” boxes that are installed outside the front door of commercial businesses where their business keys are placed. Cornwell says that SFR secures the keys inside the box while having a single key they secure on each of their own apparatus. This is thanks to an electronic security device called a “key secure device” provided by the company Knox and is secured on their own apparatus with a key code that opens every box in the city. Cornwell emphasizes that they keep the key “very secure.”

“The security of that key is very important, that’s why it’s called the knox box key,” he said. “Kind of like Fort Knox, it’s very secure.”

On laying the foundation, Cornwell says that the department’s research, justification, policy development, and both approval and implementation had to be done before Knox could be brought aboard. He recounted working with SPD to travel to Ventosa, North Carolina, to meet their new team member.

“We spent a day looking at all of the available canines that they had imported from overseas and we put them through their paces essentially until we’ve decided on the one that they brought back to their police department and, of course, Knox that we’ve brought back to us.”

On tackling bomb threat emergencies prior to having canine assistance, Cornwell says the responses could be “time-consuming” and notes treating each threat as a “new emergency.”

“We can’t become complacent in the fact that it’s ‘Ok, here we go, another bomb threat at the school,’” he said. “We have to treat each one of them as a serious event and we go and we evacuate the school. We make our phone calls to our regional resources to come help us as a mutual aid response to help deem the scene safe and a part of that response is our canine partners in other jurisdictions from the State Police, the Coast Guard and our other Hampton Road municipalities that already had these K-9 resources in place.”

Cornwell says that it sometimes takes an hour or two to get the resources on the scene. These delays tie fire personnel to a scene for extended periods of time, making them unable to respond to other emergencies in the city. 

While Knox’s role will help alleviate this issue, Cornwell says that the pup will also help with the department’s community risk reduction and outreach efforts despite his “single-purpose” label.

“We encourage people to embrace Knox in public,” Cornwell said. “We want people to feel comfortable petting the dog. He’s friendly, he’s a floppy-eared German Short-Haired Pointer, and we want to use him for outreach. That’s a big part of our multifaceted approach to using him in the community.”