TODAY

TODAY   |  January 17, 2014

Arson dogs are a firefighter’s best friend

NBC’s Tom Costello talks to firefighters and meets their loyal assistants: Arson dogs, who whiff out clues to suspicious blazes with extraordinary accuracy.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> of crime fighting helping arson investigators fight deadly fires. tom, good morning to you.

>> reporter: hey, savannah, good morning. this is rue and scott wilson with the d.c. fire department . we know these dogs have incredible noses. you're going to see them sniffing out traces of gasoline, kerosene and a charred soot-filled room. and for them, it's as easy as smelling pizza is for you and me. early morning in aurora, colorado , and a four-legged arson investigator named sadie is working an apartment fire. jerry means from the colorado bureau of investigation drops a marker. there's a good chance sadie has picked up the whiff of an axel accelera accelerant.

>> we've had some alerts, which takes the guesswork out of where we need to take samples.

>> reporter: already, sadie and jerry have worked 600 fires in colorado . they make up one of the 81 specifically trained teams now working in the u.s. and canada. arson fires cost nearly $700 million and 170 lives each year. because a dog's nose is at least 100 times better than a human's, state farm insurance pays for the dog's training every year, convinced it's one of the best ways to search for evidence in a petroleum-based accelerant.

>> we can't see, we can't smell it. it's half way burned up, but it's easy to come in and identify.

>> the teams must be recertified annually by national trainers, most recently in washington . in one of these cans, just a few drops of accelerant, the dogs must find it and alert their handler. of course, they don't know they're solving a potential crime. to them, it's all a big game .

>> you ready to work?

>> every time florida detective's phone rings, her ears perk up.

>> she knows what the phone means, i'm getting dressed, what it means, and she's ready to go.

>> the trainers prefer labs because they're happy, curious, playful and possess that amazing nose able to distinguish 60 different potential fuels. investigators can send the sample to a crime lab . these canine teams have made such a difference, they now have their own statue in washington .

>> i know every single screw on this, every single stitch.

>> reporter: as for sadie 's recertification test, she passed with flying colors .

>> all she's asking for in return is a pat on the head, somebody to tell her she did a good job --

>> and a cookie.

>> that's right.

>> reporter: back out live with rue and scott here in washington , we asked why don't they put booties on their paws if they're going into crime scenes with nails and broken glass ? the answer is because they don't want to take any chances of the dogs then not being able to feel the danger. and if they're on the danger or on this kind of debris with their regular paws, they'll feel it, shift their weight and generally injuries are very rare. they get along pretty well, don't they? savannah, back