On June 10, our Department's canine search and rescue teams (CST) of Fire Fighter Paramedic Gary Durian and "Tanker," Fire Captain Dennis DiMarzio and "Ty" and Fire Fighter Sara Rathbun and "Raider" achieved their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certifications following a rigorous testing at the Aggregate Industries K-9 Testing Facility in Littleton, Massachusetts. This is the first certification for DiMarzio and Ty and Rathbun and Raider, who became official Department CSTs after graduating from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation's (NDSDF) Search Team program on May 14, 2011. It was also Durian's first FEMA certification with his new partner, Tanker (Durian had previously been FEMA-certified with his prior CST team-mate "Baxter," who was retired shortly after returning from Japan). "It went really well," says Durian. "All the evaluators had great things to say about our teams. Our Department now has nine very strong, certified dogs for our CST program."
The stringent testing involves each team proving themselves in basic obedience and agility tests as well as a search and rescue exam where they must find five out of six "victims" hidden in specially-designed rubble piles. An unexpected heat wave made things more challenging for the teams, but also provided a more realistic setting. "The temperatures were in the upper 80s and the high humidities taxed the dogs, especially Ty and Raider who both have black coats," said Durian. "It made it that much harder for them but it was just like real life when we were in Haiti and working under the same conditions. So it was a good test of how our dogs would work in those types of environments." For Durian, the certification with Tanker was just as challenging as his first certification with Baxter. "I had a slight advantage, but I was still kind of nervous. There is a lot riding on it, and all it takes is for the dog to have a bad day or an off day and you have to come back and do it again." Happily, despite the high heat, all three of our canines successfully located all six victims in the pile and passed their exam with flying colors.
Congratulations to these new FEMA-certified CSTs who can now can be deployed to respond to large-scale national and international disasters!