Arson K-9 Joins Crown Point Fire Rescue

Arson K-9 Joins Crown Point Fire Rescue

Crown Point Fire Rescue is adding another resource to its toolbox: an accelerant detection canine. K-9 Sophie joined the ranks of Crown Point Fire Rescue on May 2.

The arson canine and her handler Fire Investigator Todd Bennett have already investigated fires in Northwest Indiana.

Bennett and K-9 Sophie showed off their skills Thursday morning during an Arson Awareness Week demonstration for city leadership and local State Farm representatives, including State Farm agent Mark Jonas, State Farm agent Michelle Brown and Katherine Hufnagl, a team member for State Farm agent Dominic Candeloro.

“In Crown Point, we put a paramount on public safety. Our public safety officials do a fantastic job protecting and serving our community — this just adds to it,” Crown Point Mayor Pete Land said. “This is a regional tool. Arson detection dogs are rare, not only will K-9 Sophie and Fire Investigator Bennett help the citizens of Crown Point, but we can assist the Region. I can’t thank State Farm enough, you guys do a fantastic job. This is such a great program.”

This is the first arson dog in Crown Point Fire Rescue history. Currently, K-9 Sophie is the only active accelerant detection canine in Northwest Indiana.

In April, Bennett and K-9 Sophie underwent four weeks of training in Maine, graduating from Class No. 55 of the State Farm Arson Dog Program. K-9 Sophie was funded through a $25,000 grant from State Farm. The grant paid for training for both Bennett and K-9 Sophie, travel expenses, food and lodging. Bennett and K-9 Sophie were the only graduates from Indiana.

Bennett also has received donations from local businesses for K-9 Sophie, including Austgen, Kuiper, Jasaitis P.C.; Balemaster; D&L Wood Products, Inc.; Diamond Peak Homes; Macqueen Emergency; and Willy Works.

“I have been investigating fires since 2014,” Firefighter/Paramedic Bennett said. “I became a firefighter to help others in need and working with K-9 Sophie takes that mission to a new level. While our work is firerelated, we will be able to see both sides of the call. In addition to putting out fires, we can also help catch those responsible for intentionally setting fires. It’s a win-win.”

Bennett joined Crown Point Fire Rescue in February 2017. Previously, he served with the Mill Township Fire Department in Marion, Indiana. He is a graduate of the University of Saint Francis Crown Point paramedic school.

Bennett and K-9 Sophie will investigate fires in Crown Point and the Region. Currently, there are 87 active and certified teams in North America trained through the State Farm Arson Dog Program, including Bennett and K-9 Sophie.

The black, 2½-year-old English Labrador retriever is the second canine currently a part of the department’s ranks. She was raised by Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida, to be a guide dog for the blind, but her strong work drive did not make her a good guide dog.

Accelerant detection canines are trained law enforcement dogs used to sniff out evidence at fire scenes. K-9 Sophie and Bennett were trained by Maine Specialty Dogs and certified by Maine State Police. Sophie will work alongside Bennett to identify the cause of home or business fires and determine whether a fire was intentionally set.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), municipal fire departments in the United States responded to an annual average of 52,260 intentionally set structure fires from 2014-2018. The fires caused an estimated 400 civilian deaths, 950 civilian injuries and $815 million in direct property damage each year, according to a 2021 NFPA report.

“We feel law enforcement officials should have every tool possible to combat this costly — and sometimes deadly — crime,” said Heather Paul, National Arson Dog Program Coordinator for State Farm. “These K-9s enable investigators to do their job more efficiently and effectively. The scope of arson goes beyond impacting insurance companies — it affects the personal and financial well-being of us all. Training dogs to detect accelerants at fire scenes saves time and money in arson investigations.”

Since 2019, Crown Point Fire Rescue has responded to 204 structure fires, averaging around 50 per year in Crown Point.

“We are proud of Firefighter Bennett for seeking out this program and undergoing rigorous training,” Crown Point Fire Chief Mark Baumgardner Jr. said. “Sophie is a great addition to our Crown Point Fire Rescue family. We are excited to expand our skills and add another resource to our toolbox we can use to keep the Crown Point community safe.”

For more information about the Arson Dog Program visit www.arsondog.org

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