Students at Jumoke Academy Meet Fire Accelerant Detection Dog and Handler

Students at Jumoke Academy Meet Fire Accelerant Detection Dog and Handler

Middle schoolers at the Jumoke Charter School in Hartford recently had a visit from a six-year-old black lab named Baxter who is trained in detecting fire accelerants involved in arson. Baxter came with his handler, Detective Paul Makuc of the Connecticut State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit.   Detective Makuc spoke about his work with this specialized unit for the past eight years and how he and Baxter function as a team to investigate fires, some resulting in the crime of arson.

The students are part of an enrichment program called YAP™ (Youth Ambassador K9 Career Program), which raises awareness among young people about opportunities in the field of working dogs. In the past, the students at Jumoke have learned how dogs are used in search and rescue, therapy, and even courts of law, but this was their first introduction to the field of accelerant detection and fire investigation.

Detective Makuc demonstrated Baxter’s talents by hiding several drops of accelerant around the classroom while the dog was outside in the hallway. “When Baxter came in, they saw how he alerts to the accelerant,” said Makuc. “His whole demeanor changes and he gets very serious.” The dog trains daily with his handler and is rewarded with food every time he detects an accelerant. His accuracy is approximately 95%, according to Makuc, who was impressed by how attentive the students in grades 6-8 were.

“It was a good group. They seemed to be really interested in the dog and our work and fire investigation,” he said. “I talked about how Baxter’s been with me since 2008 and how he went through 11-12 weeks of training to learn how to do this. And now he is still in constant training.”

Detective Makuc and Baxter do regular demonstations for civic and school groups, as well as at fire departments and fire safety days. The Connecticut State Police trained the first accelerant detection canine in the world, a black lab named Mattie, in 1986. From there the program spread to other states, but the trainers of Mattie, now retired state troopers, are still involved in Connecticut’s program.

The Jumoke Charter School is a K-8 magnet school that mostly draws children from a disadvantaged background. The Jumoke YAP program is underwritten by the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation.