SAFD arson dog integral part of investigations to prevent fraud

Jenna is certified by State Farm’s Arson Dog Program

If something doesn’t smell right at the scene of a fire, you can bet one member of the San Antonio Fire Department will detect it.
If something doesn’t smell right at the scene of a fire, you can bet one member of the San Antonio Fire Department will detect it.

SAN ANTONIO – If something doesn’t smell right at the scene of a fire, you can bet one member of the San Antonio Fire Department will detect it.

Jenna, an arson K9, has been with SAFD for the past four years, sniffing for a cause in numerous blazes and detecting if any criminal activity is involved.

Jenna loves humans, treats and any chance to play in the water. Her passion for a task flunked her out of guide-dog school, but opened up the doors for a new career.

“All of the dogs in our program were either from animal shelters, rescues or they were flunked out of guide-dog school,” said Heather Paul, a public affairs specialist for State Farm.

Paul has helped run the State Farm Arson Dog Program for the past 11 years.

“Jenna didn’t make it as a guide dog because she had too much drive to find things. Rather than end up possibly homeless or without having a job, we take those dogs that are hyper (and) have a hard drive to work, and we give them the career that they need,” Paul said.

Jenna can always be found standing next to SAFD Arson Investigator Ryan Press.

“She’s an accelerant detection canine arson dog, and so, she’s trained to sniff for ignitable liquids,” Press said.

Jenna can detect even the smallest drop of a hydrocarbon-based liquid, including gasoline, lighter or diesel fluid and scented plug-ins.

“She (sniffs) to pinpoint the highest concentration of an ignitable liquids,” Press said.

Each time Jenna picks up on the scent, she sits to alert her handler to be rewarded with food.

Jenna’s job helps verify investigations and prevent fraudulent claims.

“When you think about it, the evidence literally burns up,” Paul said. “So, our nose can’t go into a fire scene and smell where there may be any traces of an accelerant that was used to start that fire. There’s taxpayer dollars that go into fire investigations. There’s overtime pay, and then there’s also the likelihood of prosecution for arson crime.”

According to Press, Jenna has responded to nearly 100 fire scenes, but every year she has to prove she’s still fit to be one of SAFD’s finest. The pandemic forced the certification renewal process for State Farm’s Arson Dog Program to go virtual.

“The (arson dogs) train all year long and then once a year they get to show (that)… all of this training is effective,” Press said.

Jenna helps the Arson Investigative Unit but also serves as an ambassador for SAFD.

“When a dog is on the scene, because that dog can pinpoint where there’s evidence, that evidence then can be collected quickly before it degrades,” Paul said. “It helps not only the community make sure that the arsonist is put behind bars, but it also increases community awareness of arson, crime and fraud. Hopefully we’re able to deter others from considering arson as an insurance fraud or community crime.”

According to Paul, cases of arson have increased in the past year nationwide.

“In many instances across the country as well as in Texas, we’ve seen an increase in the number of arson fires, particularly to small businesses. The pandemic resulted in a lot of people losing their business and income, and sometimes they resorted to insurance fraud by starting fires,” Paul said.

Jenna helps prevent those types of incidents. Even over Zoom, Jenna proved her skills are an integral part of SAFD.

“We’re proud that Jenna flunked out of guide-dog school and found her purpose. It was San Antonio,” Paul said.

To learn more about the State Farm Arson Dog Program, click here.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.