Story by Claire Elliot
SCOTLAND’S only international search and rescue dog was in action for the first time at the weekend - as he prepares to sniff out survivors trapped in disaster zones around the world.
Two-year-old Diesel is the newest recruit to join the UK’s disaster relief team, and the only four-legged member north of the border.
And the English springer spaniel, bred by handler Gary Carroll, was put through his paces when he took part in his first major training exercise at Aberdeen City Council’s former headquarters.
The clever canine - one of 12 dogs from around the UK taking part in the event - was sent in to scour the 14-storey office block, which had been made to simulate a collapsed building, in an effort to gain experience for real-life rescue missions.
Volunteers were hidden strategically throughout the property, which is soon to be demolished, and Diesel had to help sniff out the “live scent”.
Mr Caroll, team manager at Grampian Fire and Rescue Service, said it will be the end of the year before his dog is
able to qualify for overseas missions.
But he was confident his four-legged companion was showing all the right signs.
“Diesel’s a great little dog," he said.
"He’s working away fine and at the moment he’s looking like he’s going to make the grade.
“I bred him from my own dogs and he’s got the nose for it and the play drive, which is what they need. If you know the dog wants to play, you know it will hunt down the live scent.”
Like all International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Team dogs, Diesel works with the fire service and lives with his handler, who volunteers for rescue missions in the UK and overseas.
Once he is fully qualified, he can then be called on to help search for survivors of collapsed buildings, tsunamis, and earthquakes anywhere around the world.
Mr Caroll, 41, who was part of a six-man team from Scotland who travelled to New Zealand after an earthquake in the country last year, explained that having Diesel will make a huge difference.
He said: “We didn’t have the dog when we went to New Zealand. Having him will make a big difference. The dogs are able to cover an area much quicker. Also, in an earthquake zone it’s quite hazardous and a dog is much lighter, so instead of putting six fire-fighters over an unstable area it’s much safer to put the dog over it because there’s less chance of disturbance.
“We still need the fire fighters. But the dog is able to pin-point the team in the direction of the casualties and they can then go in and use their skills to extract them. It saves a lot of time.”
Once a dog has located survivors, it is trained to give a prolonged bark of no less than 30 seconds to alert the handler.
Diesel has only been working with Grampian Fire and Rescue Service for a few months.
It will be the end of the year before he is put through his first grading to see if he has what it takes to become a fully qualified ISAR dog.
But he was in good company at the weekend when he was joined by international search and rescue (ISAR) dogs from around the UK, including Kirby, a springer spaniel, who saved a man trapped after an explosion in Essex earlier this month - just four days after he qualified.
Mr Caroll, who was one of 10 handlers taking part in a series of tests over the weekend, said: “Exercises like this are crucial to ensure that dogs and handlers remain at the top of their game at all times.
“It’s not often we get the opportunity to work in a building of this size and the experience will undoubtedly help us in real-life situations.
“The dogs don’t realise they working. They just see it as continued play.
“They see it as a big game and once they’ve located the live scent their reward is a toy.
“They just think they’re having fun with their handler. The dog wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.
“But it is serious training. You can’t take a dog overseas unless you know it’s going to be of benefit to you.”
But having been training him since he was a pup, Mr Caroll is confident Diesel has what it takes to succeed.