A firefighter's best friend

Friday, November 22, 2013
Diesel, a male Belgian Malinois, that has been trained in search and rescue and drug detection is pictured above with his handler, Central Crossing Fire Chief Rusty Rickard. Diesel came to the department in January for tracking and searching in the large forested lands surrounding Shell Knob and the lake area. Democrat photo/Kerry Hays

Dogs have been associated with firefighters since the first horse-drawn wagons were used to answer the call. In the early days of firefighting, dogs were used to calm the horses for as long as it took to fight the fire. Dogs today are trained and certified in a variety of life-saving work never previously imagined.

"Diesel holds national and international certification in tracking and trailing," said Rusty Rickard, fire chief for the Central Crossing Fire Protection District. "He also holds the same certification in narcotics detection."

Diesel is a 70-pound, two-year-old Belgian Malinois that was acquired by the district in January to assist with search and rescue operations in an area near large tracts of national forest.

"I've always had a big interest in working dogs. I've had German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois in the past -- I just never dove off into the time requirements and dedication it takes to do it," said Rickard. " I decided last year to do it since it was something I wanted to do, and I thought he could help out in the community."

Rickard received the backing of his board and the community who showed their support by providing the funds necessary to acquire the dog.

"We operate solely on donations," said Rickard, who is hoping for additional support from the area to assist with the costs of feeding, veterinary bills and additional equipment.

When Diesel was first acquired, he had already been certified in narcotics detection. Rickard has since trained the dog in tracking and trailing with certification achieved in March. The dog is required to train several times a week to maintain his certifications.

"Obviously as a fire department we didn't have an interest in getting into narcotics detection, we were interested in the dog more for tracking and trailing for search and rescue-type operations," said Rickard., "but the dog already had the narcotics certification so on my own I've tried to keep that up and keep that going."

Diesel's search and rescue work has been minimal since becoming certified, but he has been prepared to assist if needed.

"Since we've had the certification, we've had some calls and we've been on standby a couple of times with him," said Rickard. "Fortunately, before we had to jump in the truck and travel, whoever they were looking for was found."

Agencies such as the Stone County Sheriff's Department, the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force and even local schools have called upon Diesel at times to assist with narcotics detection.

"One of the reasons why I've wanted to keep that certification on him more than anything, it gives him something else to do," said Rickard. "As a fire department, Central Crossing is not in the business of providing a narcotics dog, but they've allowed me to do that on my own with the dog. We've had a lot more opportunities on the narcotics side than the search and rescue side."

Rickard continues to train Diesel, keeping him prepared for the time when his services will be used more regularly.

"I'm excited and looking forward to using him more and more as the need shall arise," said Rickard.

Central Crossing Fire Protection District is a not for profit 501c3 organization and interested individuals can make donations directly to the canine division of the district.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: