It’s with a mixture of pride, sadness and gratitude that the Philadelphia Fire Department announces the retirement of Chance, our accelerant-detecting canine.
Chance leaves the Fire Marshal’s Office this week after six-and-a-half years on the job — that’s about 45 dog years! There will be a small send-off on Oct. 26.
The black Labrador retriever, who turns 9 next month, was part of the Arson and Explosives Task Force that includes members of the Fire Marshal’s Office, Philadelphia Police Department and ATF.
“He has a great nose,” said his handler, Lt. George Werez. “He’s a great asset — he really is.”
Chance responded to about 900 fire scenes over the course of his career, and ended up conducting searches for accelerants at more than 600 of those sites. He was trained to detect substances including kerosene, diesel, gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, and lamp oil.
“Lt. Werez and Chance have proven to be an excellent team,” said Deputy Chief Harry Bannan, who worked with the pair for several years as Fire Marshal. “They’ve been requested not only by the ATF for duties outside of Philadelphia, but by many other local police and fire departments.”
Werez recalled one recent case when a house had been firebombed. During a search of the block, Chance’s nose led to a still-intact firebomb – a glass bottle filled with an ignitable liquid and wick – hidden more than 300 feet from the scene between a trash can and a recycling bin.
Investigators relied heavily on Chance to identify the best location to recover samples of accelerants at fire scenes, according to Mark Monaghan, group supervisor for the Arson and Explosives Task Force.
“Chance never let us down,” Monaghan said. “Without question, Chance is the best. We hope he enjoys retirement.”
As a canine of leisure, Chance will continue to live with Werez, who has been with the PFD for 25 years – seven of them in the Fire Marshal’s Office.
“He’s just laid back,” Werez said. “He’s one of the best dogs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had dogs my entire life.”
But Chance will soon have company. At the end of October, Werez will travel to the ATF Canine Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia, for six weeks to work with a new arson dog. The pair will return to Philadelphia in early December, and that dog will also live with Werez.
Chance is the fourth dog to serve in the Fire Marshal’s Office. The PFD got Gentry, its first accelerant-detecting dog, in 1994. Gentry is now the name of the department’s canine mascot.