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Meet Delta, the new fire district K-9

Hawaii's loss was Cloquet's gain this summer, when a dog being trained as a backup accelerant detection K-9 for the island state became available in June.

Cloquet Area Fire District battalion chief Jason Maki picked up Delta, a 2½-year-old golden retriever mix from the North Carolina training site in mid-June.

"It's a long story, but she was one of two dogs that were slated to go to Hawaii after the police academy," Maki explained. "They do two dogs because Hawaii is super strict on animals coming, so they have two ready to do in case one fails in the academy or gets sick. The first one passed, so Delta became available."

Her arrival came only weeks after the Cloquet Area Fire District lost its previous K-9, Wish, who had been with the fire district and Maki for nine years.

Delta was already trained as an accelerant detection dog: she learned how to find accelerants - such as gas cans or rags with gas on them - at a fire scene. The pair have been training as a team here, since Maki has already been part of a State Farm arson team. They have trained at home and at the district's burn trailer, Maki said. Delta will be only one of two accelerant detection K-9s in the state; the other one is in Rochester, Minnesota.

Maki said Delta's arrival has also been good for his family, as the dog lives with them when she's not at work.

"The loss of the other K-9 was pretty impactful on me, my kids and my wife," he said. It was really sudden. This has helped them and me. It was pretty weird coming to work here with no dog. That's what you do for nine straight years."

Maki said he and Delta will help other departments too in suspected cases of arson or when there's a fatality. He shared how only weeks after he and Wish finished training, she found accelerant at a Duluth fire scene. That was very satisfying, he said.

"The most recent case I went to with Wish was a fatal fire in Hibbing," he said. "They knew somebody was in the building, but they couldn't find them. They didn't know if it was arson, but asked us to come see if it was arson and, while we were there, look for the body too. They looked for three hours. We went up there and Wish actually found the body within 15 minutes of being there. It turned out it wasn't arson though."

Maki and Wish also traveled to the Twin Cities, Virginia and Superior to help out. "A lot of it just depends on what I feel is important to go to. And it's good for the dog, because we don't have a bazillion fires in Cloquet, so it's good training. Plus, if there's a small fire here or in a nearby area, sometimes I'll use the building for training. There's nothing better than real fires to train in."

Maki said they are nearly done training. He expects to get their final certification soon, which will likely mean a blind test that would require Delta to correctly identify a can with accelerant out of multiple cans.

There was no cost to CAFD for Delta's training. The State Farm insurance company program provides funding and resources to law enforcement and fire investigators to train with arson dogs and help combat arson crimes.

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