Canine heroes-in-waiting from around the nation will converge this weekend on a Puyallup gravel pit for their final trial. For those that pass the test, they'll receive coveted certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue program.
Dogs like these spent weeks sniffing through the rubble of the World Trade Center looking first for survivors, then for human remains. More recently, FEMA-certified dogs and their handlers who have been through the rigorous US&R Canine Search Specialist Certification program were deployed to the devastating SR530 Landslide in Snohomish County.
Washington Urban Search and Rescue Task Force (WATF-1), which is sponsored by the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, is hosting the certification trials Jan. 24 and 25 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Randles Sand & Gravel in Puyallup.
A national group of canine experts will evaluate teams consisting of a dog and its handler. Each team will have to find volunteer "victims" hidden in two different piles of rubble. As the handlers and their canine colleagues conduct their search, both will have to contend with various distractions intentionally introduced to make the test more realistic.
More information about the FEMA certification is available at www.fema.gov/emergency/usr/canine.shtm.
Sheri Badger, Pierce County Emergency Management
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(253) 377-4149 (cell)