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UK to fund urban rescue dogs

A NEW elite canine squad is joining the fire and rescue service to sniff out people trapped in collapsed buildings.

Known as 'USAR' - Urban Search and Rescue dogs - they will follow in the heroic and highly professional paw-prints of the dogs that went to the Pakistan earthquake, the USA's 9/11 dogs, and the rescue dogs used during the Boscastle Floods, in Cornwall.

Each dog - usually a Collie or Springer Spaniel - receives specialist training for 18 months to 2 years to develop its acute sniffing skills before being ready for service, and is kitted out with protective boots and jackets.

The dog squad is being funded by a £430,000 investment announced this week by Fire Minister Parmjit Dhanda who was visiting Leicestershire Fire and Rescue service to see a practice drill mimicking the conditions of a rescue search. London will get four rescue dogs, with 16 others assigned to specialist units at fire and rescue services across England, that can be swiftly deployed across the country if an incident occurs.

Funding for USAR dogs will go to: Avon, Buckinghamshire, Devon & Somerset, Essex, Hampshire, Hereford &Worcestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Norfolk, Tyne & Wear, West Midlands, West Sussex and West Yorkshire FRS.

Fire Minister Parmjit Dhanda said: ‘These dogs are real lifesavers as shown by their heroic efforts in all parts of the world. Their skills are crucial to giving the fire service the best possible chance of finding people alive in collapsed buildings. With this investment, the new dog squads can be called to any part of the country whenever needed.’

The USAR dogs cash is part of the latest £16.7million grant funding from Communities and Local Government to support the specialist equipment supplied to the Fire and Rescue Service. Since 9/11 (2001) the Government has invested heavily in the Fire and Rescue Service to ensure that it has enhanced capability to deal with major incidents. The Government has invested over £200million to equip the FRS across England with a wide-ranging package of specialist equipment and facilities for mass decontamination, urban search and rescue and high volume pumping.

Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service will have the lead role in coordinating training and establishing a national USAR dog duty rota.

Several regions already employ SAR dogs, so the funding for the specialist team is not to enable the project to start from scratch, but to help enhance the existing SAR dogs operation and work towards the co-ordinated national network of USAR dogs.