Warrant Officers, WO2 Lean Chee Keat (left) and WO1 Dan Qiong (right), posing for the camera with the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Dogs and Fire Investigation (FI) dogs.
King Frederick II of Prussia once said that a dog is a man’s best friend. This famous quote still rings true even today. For over three hundred years, search and rescue dogs have been used to locate people who are lost in remote places. During World War I, search and rescue dogs helped medics locate lost and injured soldiers, helping them to find their way back to camp. These dogs are renowned for their keen sense of smell and it is a vital trait required for search and rescue operations.
The Search Platoon (K-9 unit) of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) trains and deploys dogs for Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) operations as well as for Fire Investigation (FI). Rescue 995 engaged the dog handlers from the Search Platoon, Warrant Officers, WO1 Dan Qiong and WO2 Lean Chee Keat for an exclusive interview.
WO1 Dan Qiong has been with the Search Platoon since August 2008 and she is in charge of training FI dogs as well as medical training on dogs’ first aid. WO2 Lean Chee Keat has been with the Search Platoon since May 2000 and he is in charge of training USAR dogs for local and overseas operations. In addition, he oversees the induction of new officers in dog training within the unit.
Rescue 995: What intrigued you to join the Search Platoon?
WO1 Dan Qiong: I was serving at Changi Fire Station for four years before I joined the Search Platoon. When I heard about the platoon, I was told that its officers work with dogs. And even though I did not know anything about dog rearing or training, the vocation intrigued me as I was looking for something unique and interesting in my career. I have never looked back since joining the Search Platoon. It was the best decision I have made!
WO2 Lean: I had some experience with dogs because back in my kampong days, my village kept a lot of dogs. I took the opportunity to apply and join the Search Platoon when I was in SCDF and the rest is history.
Rescue 995: Tell us about the medical training on dogs’ first aid and why it is important for dog handlers to be trained in such knowledge.
WO1 Dan Qiong: As dog handlers, we are trained to conduct first aid on dogs, and this requires some veterinarian knowledge. Every year, we will undergo training to be equipped with the knowledge to give the right medical treatment on dogs in case of any medical issues the dogs may be having.
WO2 Lean: Such knowledge is important for we need to know the right dosage of medication to give the dogs whenever they are feeling under the weather.
Rescue 995: What roles do FI dogs play and how are they trained for operations?
WO1 Dan Qiong: FI Unit will activate the FI dogs when they are needed at the fire ground. When activated, we will deploy the dogs to search for any presence of fire accelerants. The dogs are trained to be familiar with the scent of various accelerants such as diesel, petrol, turpentine, kerosene and thinner.
WO2 Lean: During the training, we focus on one chemical at a time. Once the dog is able to recognise a chemical sample, we will introduce another chemical for the dog to learn and be familiarised with it.
Rescue 995: How many dogs are there in the Search Platoon and how long does the training take per dog?
WO1 Dan Qiong: We house up to about 20 dogs and each dog handler will be training and looking after two to three dogs. On average, it takes about one to two months for the dogs to be trained. Of course, that would depend very much on the dog’s personality. Some take longer to be trained while others are fast learners.
USAR dogs and FI dogs anticipating catching the tennis ball from WO2 Lean.
Rescue 995: Any challenges so far with regards to training the dogs for their respective roles?
WO1 Dan Qiong: When you are a new dog handler, you get the opportunity to learn how to work with the dogs from scratch. After years of experience, you will realise that dogs are living things after all. They have their own character and their mood are constantly changing day by day. I realise that one cannot expect the dogs to perform at their best every day. Every dog is different in its level of competency based on its emotion at a particular point of time.
Rescue 995: Do you have any favourite dog?
WO1 Dan Qiong: Frankly all the dogs are my favourites!
WO2 Lean: Same for me! In fact, the dogs will get jealous if one of them sense that you are giving more time and attention to one of its peers. When that happens, the affected dog will start to show some displeasure.
Rescue 995: Share with us how the USAR dogs are trained for operations.
WO2 Lean: The dogs are trained progressively in stages. As many of them are purchased from the United Kingdom, these dogs will be given some time to adapt to our local tropical climate while getting trained in agility and obedience. Thereafter, the dogs are required to undergo urban search and rescue training where they will be exposed to various scenarios at the obstacle courses and mazes under different weather conditions and at varying difficulty levels. The dogs will also be trained in height and depth rescue. If the dogs manage to find the “lost person” during the search and rescue scenario, we will reward them. Through such vigorous training, we can be confident that the dogs are competent to carry out search and rescue missions locally and overseas.
Jess, the FI dog (left), playing with Jack, the USAR dog (right).
Rescue 995: How long do the dogs serve in the Search Platoon before retiring? And where would they be going after they retire?
WO1 Dan Qiong: Usually, the dogs will serve eight to nine years in the Search Platoon. However that would also depend on the dogs’ medical status. There are cases when a dog has to retire early due to its physical health but if a dog is still strong and healthy, we will keep them for a little longer in the Search Platoon.
WO2 Lean: When these dogs retire from the Force, they have the opportunity to be adopted by their SCDF handlers or others, including HDB residents, so that they can live the rest of the days with proper human care and shelter.