Three newly activated teams of chaplains certified as handlers of specially trained service dogs will offer added emotional support services to the employees of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the agency announced Tuesday.
"We are excited to introduce our three canines," San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell said. "They are highly trained and available to our employees for emotional support in dealing with traumatic or emotionally challenging incidents...Using canines has proven successful in so many other areas, and we know these dogs will fit right in with our fire family."
The SDFRD Crisis Response Canine program will be administered by chaplains Debi Arnold, Dan Guarrero and Betsy Salzman, making use of the skills of their dogs, Ty, Bodie and Genoa.
Ty is a 6-year-old mini goldendoodle owned, trained and handled by Arnold, who bought him when he was 12 weeks old. They have two years' experience with a local trauma intervention program.
Bodie, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, was trained and placed by Next Step Service Dogs, which prepares canines for active-duty military personnel, veterans and first responders who have post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury, SDFRD spokeswoman Monica Munoz said.
The total cost for Bodie and his training was about $17,000. Guarrero is responsible for the dog's ongoing costs, such as food and veterinary bills, with support from the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation.
Genoa is a 2-year-old Labrador retriever who lives with and is handled by Salzman. They have visited a variety of SDFRD facilities and supported personnel at emergency incidents. Salzman is responsible for Genoa's ongoing costs, with support from the firefighters' foundation.
Bodie, Genoa and Ty are certified through Next Step Service Dogs, an Assistance Dogs International accredited organization. The chaplains and their canines have completed more than 120 hours of training, and they will continue to receive instruction through NSSD, Munoz said.
The SDFRD's chaplaincy program is made up of 17 volunteer religious leaders from a variety of faiths. There are two chaplains assigned to each battalion, one to the lifeguard division and one to the emergency command and data center, as well as one administrative chaplain, Munoz said.