Dog's job is to save humans Hero: On Carroll County's Advanced Technical Rescue team, a specially trained golden retriever goes where ordinary rescuers can't.

December 27, 1998|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The newest member of Carroll County's Advanced Technical Rescue team -- which specializes in difficult rescues such as sinkhole and silo accidents -- is Nugget, a 2-year-old golden retriever.

Nugget has been trained to find lost humans -- whether it's a child who has wandered off, an elderly person who has walked away from a home, or someone trapped in a collapsed building.

"He's trained on live human scent -- that's all he's trained for," said owner and rescue member Tim Warner. "We got him for the ATR team because we go out on building collapses and we send the dog in to search and tell us if somebody is in the building."

The dog is a necessity in such situations, Warner said, "because we have certain procedures we have to follow for [state and federal] regulations -- we can't go into a collapsed building, but the dog can."

Warner, also a deputy state fire marshal in Frederick and Carroll counties, trained Nugget with the help of the Chesapeake Search and Rescue Dog Association Inc., fellow deputy fire marshal K. Arthur McGhee and two nephews.

Using a video and assistance from the rescue association's head trainer, Bruce Snyder, Warner started training Nugget when the dog was about a year old.

"We did training where he watched a person go somewhere, then he would go and find them, then we worked him up to more difficult situations," Warner said.

In training, the dog, who thinks he's playing hide-and-seek, gets a reward when he's successful -- in Nugget's case, his favorite squeaky ball.

Nugget is capable of going into a variety of situations, including confined spaces such as underground pipes, or being airlifted with a human handler out of a helicopter for an overland rescue.

"If somebody's where we can't get to them, but the dog can, we can put a radio on his collar and he'll take it to the person so they can talk to us until we get to them," Warner said.

On a recent Saturday, Warner demonstrated Nugget's abilities at the Carroll County Fire Training Center in Westminster. McGhee's 9-year-old son, Albert, played a victim for Nugget.

While Warner dressed Nugget in his orange collar and vest, Albert hid behind a trailer. Upon Warner's command to "Go find," Nugget took off, sniffing the ground and the air for Albert's scent.

"When he gets his uniform on, he goes into mission mode,"

McGhee said. "We practice with articles of clothing. Usually, he'll find the clothing and you."

When Nugget found the child several minutes later, he circled the boy, then returned to sit in front of Warner, who rewarded him with his squeaky ball and urged the dog to "Show me, boy." Nugget then ran back to Albert.

To make a hunt more difficult, Warner had Albert hide on the roof of the center's burn building, which is used for fire-training practice.

"Nugget air-scents, too, and he'll backtrack for Albert, because that's what people do," McGhee said. "Nugget may not go up the steps, but he'll hang around them and that will alert the handler."

With encouragement from Warner, Nugget climbed the outside steps to the building's roof, where he bounded over to Albert, then back to Warner.

"He's got a strong alert, but he doesn't bark very much," Warner noted.

The dog attends the ATR team's monthly training sessions, "so he gets to know all the members and they know him," Warner said.

Warner and his wife, Carol, a Maryland State Police corporal, work with Nugget at home.

Nugget has had one search in Harford County, where a woman wandered into the woods. Firefighters and others searched for 12 hours before calling Warner and the dog.

"We got there about 10 p.m. and we had the woman by 10: 30 p.m.," Warner said. "The firefighters had walked right by her, but she was in some pines and when Nugget found her, we had to cut our way in to get to her."

In spring, Warner wants to start cadaver training, teaching Nugget to find a body from the scent of clothing that belonged to the deceased person.

"I learned as much from [training] him as he did from me," Warner said. "When you get out in the woods, you follow the dog's lead. He knows what he's doing, you have to trust him -- that's part of the training."

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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