More than a man’s best friend

K9 unit of great service in helping to save disaster victims and to investigate fires.

IT’S often said that a dog is a man’s best friend. But for fireman Kenneth Masir, an English springer spaniel named Bella is more than just a buddy, she is also his trusted work partner.

Kenneth, a dog handler with the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department’s K9 unit, has been working with Bella since 2018 when the unit was set up in the state.

He said the K9 unit was first established in Kuala Lumpur in 2002 with 12 dogs to be deployed in fire investigation, cadaver detection, wilderness search and rescue (SAR) and urban SAR.

“Bella is the third dog I’m handling.

Handlers Kenneth Masir (left) and Dominic Bahong Micky with their dogs Bella and Daisy at the Serian fire station. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarHandlers Kenneth Masir (left) and Dominic Bahong Micky with their dogs Bella and Daisy at the Serian fire station. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

“My original role was in urban SAR with the K9 unit in Peninsular Malaysia.

“When the unit was set up in Sarawak and needed personnel, I was transferred here to handle a cadaver detection dog,” he said at the Serian fire station, where the Sarawak K9 unit is based.

According to Kenneth, handling a dog takes time and patience.

“We train five days a week. On the weekends, we take the dogs for walks or a swim in the river, which they really enjoy.

Dog handler Dominic Bahong Micky (left) walking Daisy, a wilderness SAR dog, at the Serian fire station while state Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Khirudin Drahamn looks on. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarDog handler Dominic Bahong Micky (left) walking Daisy, a wilderness SAR dog, at the Serian fire station while state Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Khirudin Drahamn looks on. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

“We cannot leave the dogs on their own as they need continuous training,” he said.

Kenneth said Bella’s role as a cadaver dog was to detect bodies in SAR operations.

“I’ve gone out on operations with Bella many times. We mostly go out on cases involving crocodile attacks or drowning victims. She’s very efficient in looking for bodies.

“As a handler, the dog is my partner and I depend on her,” he said.

Filepic of the Fire and Rescue Department deploying the K9 Unit in an SAR operation. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarFilepic of the Fire and Rescue Department deploying the K9 Unit in an SAR operation. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

Kenneth also said the K9 unit is a great asset in the department’s operations, besides having a positive impact on the public.

“Wherever we go, people welcome and support them. They help to make operations more efficient.

“For example, landslide operations can be shortened from seven to three days with the help of K9 dogs,” he said.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Khirudin Drahman said the K9 unit obtained six dogs from Britain in 2018, two each for fire investigation, wilderness SAR and cadaver detection.

Bella, an English springer spaniel, is one of five dogs currently in the Sarawak K9 Unit. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarBella, an English springer spaniel, is one of five dogs currently in the Sarawak K9 Unit. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

Sadly one of the cadaver dogs, Cliff, died from a bladder tumour on Christmas Day last year, leaving the unit with five canines.

Describing the dogs as “live assets”, Khirudin said they are of great service in helping to detect and save disaster victims and to investigate fires.

“We cannot deny the capabilities of the K9 unit in our operations, including in forensics and wilderness SAR.

Filepic of Cliff, a cadaver dog which passed away last Christmas, in action during an SAR operation in Kuching. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarFilepic of Cliff, a cadaver dog which passed away last Christmas, in action during an SAR operation in Kuching. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

“The dogs may not put out fires but they are highly capable of helping us investigate fires and in searching for missing people in the jungle,” he said.

Khirudin said the fire investigation dogs would be deployed in every case where arson is suspected.

“Their noses are sensitive, so they are able to detect the cause of fire in arson cases.

Filepic of Bella taking part in a search operation in Kuching. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The StarFilepic of Bella taking part in a search operation in Kuching. – ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

“For example, they can sniff out kerosene which we can then send to the lab for tests,” he said.

Khirudin also said the department plans to equip the K9 unit with urban SAR specialisation to strengthen its capabilities.

He said it is important for the unit to be prepared for large-scale urban disasters in future.

“We want to strengthen our assets and capabilities because we are facing unpredictable events.

“We have to prepare for any eventuality. Our preparedness also needs to be on par with the fast pace of development in the state,” he said.

source