It's a dog's life--playtime after solving an arson fire

The living room is charred. A thick layer of black soot covers everything--the floors, the walls, and two sofas, both destroyed. The lingering scent of smoke hangs in the air.
Still, it only takes a minute for four-year-old chocolate Lab Sprocket to get a whiff of something that doesn't belong. Nosing along the side of one of the burned sofas, he spots it: a piece of linoleum flooring, doused in gasoline. He paws it, then sits down.
"Good work!" says fire investigator Rod Lewis as he fishes out Sprocket's reward, a twisted white towel. The dog snatches one end of the toy in his mouth, launching a tug of war with his handler.
"As you can see, he's got lots of energy," Lewis says. "That's kinda what we're looking for in an accelerant dog--we needed high energy, high play drive, because he's basically a play-reward dog, so he gets to play tug when he finds what he's supposed to find."
Sprocket's job is to sniff out clues that pinpoint the cause of suspicious fires. For the demonstration, he's searching a fire scene set up at a west-end training facility, but he has helped to solve some tough cases in the last three years as the Edmonton Fire Department's sole canine member.
"He's worked a couple of pretty high-profile cases," says Lewis, an 18-year fire department veteran. Once, Sprocket uncovered the remnants of a Molotov cocktail from under about a foot of debris. That kind of evidence can prove invaluable to police, who follow arsons through the justice system.
Sprocket gets called out to about 30 cases a year, and occasionally works on fires out of town. While some private investigators do offer canine services, Sprocket is the only accelerant dog in Alberta, and one of few nationwide, working specifically in public service, says Lewis.
The Edmonton Fire Department found Sprocket through the Camrose humane society. He was 18 months old when he replaced Max, the black Lab that held the post before him. Max was 10 years old when he retired, Lewis says, so it's still early in Sprocket's fire-fighting career.
Imprinted with the scent of flammable substances such as gasoline, alcohols, and paint thinners, Sprocket can recognize the presence of a single drop of accelerant. Samples he finds are sent to labs for further analysis.
"He's a very useful tool when it comes to determining cause," Lewis explains. Without him, investigations would take much longer.
When Sprocket isn't working a fire scene or training--Lewis keeps him busy with 15 to 20 training searches a month--Sprocket hangs out at Fire Station 2, downtown. Offshift, he lives with Lewis and his family in Camrose.

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