COURTESY HAWAII COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Fire accelerant sniffing dog Kaimi, above, and his partner Robert Perreira from the Hawaii County Fire Department are seen during a break in training in Maine.
Fire-fighting dog Kaimi has a nose for what sparks blazes
HILO » When Hawaii County Fire Department's new accelerant-sniffing dog, Kaimi, goes to work, he almost races through the job, hunting for the faintest remnant scent of gasoline or similar substance amidst charred ruins.
But he's not a workaholic. He likes to nap in the administrative office of the Fire Department, said his human partner, Fire Inspector Robert Perreira.
He likes to play with Perreira's other dog at home, a pointer named Kea.
And he doesn't like cats. Just the smell of them makes him nervous.
In fact, Kaimi, "the Seeker," had a nervous edge to him the moment Perreira met him at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in April. Perreira liked that.
He had a choice of two dogs, and the other one was just too mellow. "The third day they did a speed drill, and the other dog just couldn't keep up," Perreira said.
One-year-old Kaimi isn't a one-speed dog. "I can speed him up or slow him down," Perreira said.
But Kaimi can zip through a fire scene in about an hour.
In theory he could investigate a Big Island fire in the morning and then hop a plane with Perreira and investigate a fire on another island in the afternoon.
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Kaimi prepares for a practice run. Kaimi is the first dog in the state trained to detect substances used to speed the start of fires.
Kaimi is trained to sniff for the dried remnants of gasoline in porous materials such as wood or concrete, but the gasoline training carries over to other accelerants such as diesel and kerosene.
When Kaimi smells one of those substances after a fire, it doesn't necessarily mean arson. A kerosene lantern might have sat on a table, Perreira said.
But when Kaimi indicates a trail of accelerant from a bed, out into a hallway and out the front door, that's suspicious.
Kaimi has detected accelerants in four of the six fires he's investigated since arriving in Hawaii in May.
Perreira recommended applying for one of the Maine fire dogs as soon as he was promoted to fire inspector in 2006.
Just because Perreira was allowed to attend the academy was no guarantee he would get a dog, said Chief Darryl Oliveira.
An applicant from another state washed out, was sent home without a dog and lost his job, Perreira said. "He just didn't like canines," he said.
The sniffing dog program is funded by the State Farm Insurance Cos. Since 1993 the program has placed more than 250 dogs in 43 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces.
The cost to train Kaimi and Perreira was $23,000.
Those are administrative details that don't interest Kaimi.
"He loves playing with my other dog I have at home. He likes to play. He likes being a dog," Perreira said.