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Saturday, Mar 02, 2024

HK quake rescuers hail search-dog heroes

Two search dogs - including one locally bred - were yesterday hailed as heroes by their handlers in helping rescuers from Hong Kong locate four survivors in quake-hit Turkey.
Springer spaniels Umi and Twix took part in the operation for nine days, acting as the vanguards of the SAR's 59-member search and rescue delegation in areas torn by the earthquake.

Once they sniffed the scent of survivors, rescuers would search the area with life detectors.

But the pair missed meeting the public when the rescue team returned to Hong Kong at Saturday midnight as they had to undergo quarantine.

The brown-and-white Umi also spent his second birthday in Turkey on Monday last week.

Umi, born in 2021, is one of the six working dogs jointly bred by the Fire Services Department and the Customs and Excise Department.

The other one, 20-month-old Twix, was born in the United Kingdom, and came to Hong Kong when it was eight months old together with his handler Chiang Tin-long.

Before heading to Turkey for the mission, Umi's handler Chan Chu-hong told Sing Tao Daily, The Standard's sister paper, that he took with him some dog training books to learn how to get along with Umi.

The handler of Umi's elder sister Uma, Keung Wai-man, said he met Uma when she was still a puppy. "She was just as small as my palm, and could not open her eyes," Keung said.

Farris, Uma, Taco, Umi, Raisa, and Effie, with "FUTURE" as the acronym, were the first batch of locally bred working dogs.

Umi and Uma are rescue dogs under the Search and Rescue Dog Team, having received three months of training at the Fire and Ambulance Services Academy in Tseung Kwan O.

The other four perform drug, explosive, and cash detection duties for the Customs.

Handlers of the search dogs, including Chan and Chiang, have obtained the training qualifications of both FSD's Mountain Search & Rescue Team and Urban Search And Rescue Team. Last year, the Fire Services deployed the search dogs in 16 operations, including 11 mountain rescues and five urban rescue missions.

The scent-tracing training offered by the department allows Umi and Uma to adapt to the SAR's hilly and mountainous landscape, enabling them to trace the scent of "target persons" in the mountains.

Apart from assisting in mountain and urban search and rescue missions, search dogs also played a significant role in fire investigation.

The Fire Services currently has three fire investigation dogs - namely Rocky, Goose, and Stig - all labradors born in the UK.

They are mainly responsible for assisting investigators in identifying the presence of accelerants at the fire scene.

The fire investigation dogs would be deployed after a fire is put out.

It only takes them five to 10 minutes to complete the search of an area of 700 square feet, indicating whether there are any of the six accelerants commonly used to commit arson at the scene - namely petrol, diesel, kerosene, turpentine, thinner and white spirit.
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