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Fort Lauderdale Fire Department Welcomes Search Dog With A Badge

Rick Stone

At the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department, Rit the fire dog is dying for his first real-world assignment. The firefighters want to see it, too, but that means they'd have to wish for the kind of disaster that leaves human survivors hidden in rubble and wreckage.

So, they’re happy to wait for Rit's chance to do his stuff. It may not be long.

"In the event of a building collapse, or an ejection on I-95. We have two railways that run through our city. If there's a train derailment, we can send somebody in to determine if there's anybody alive," says firefighter-paramedic Rolando Busto, Rit's handler.

That somebody would be Rit, a yellow Labrador retriever fresh out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's search and rescue dog school.

He knows what living human beings smell like, how to search them out in disaster settings and how to call attention to his discovery.

With a bunch of other law enforcement and public safety dogs looking on and barking approval, Rit received his official fire department K-9 badge during a special ceremony Monday at Fort Lauderdale's Fire Station 3 on West Las Olas Boulevard.

He's at the very beginning of what dog experts say could be a 10-year fire-rescue career. And he's the first actual fire dog the department has had in decades. According to Deputy Chief Timothy Heiser, one of the last department dogs, Skipper, was killed by an alligator in the early 1950s.

Firefighter Busto was also involved with the training of Rit, acronymic for "rapid intervention team", so he and the energetic Labrador have already developed a professional and personal rapport. 

Busto says it's always best if Rit finds out what he's looking for. If not, he gets depressed.  It's then necessary to stage a missing person situation so he can succeed and regain his self-esteem.

In addition to being a public safety animal, Rit is more or less the Busto family dog.

"He's just as valuable a member of my family as any one else is," Busto said.

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