SINGAPORE – When First Warrant Officer Dan Qiong of the Singapore Civil Defense Forces (SCDF) travels overseas on search and rescue missions, she has a canine colleague with her.
While the SCDF officers of the Disaster Assistance and Rescue (Dart) team are well known, what is less well known, it is the 14 dogs of the Search Platoon who are trained to work alongside them.
Since 1999, SCDF search dogs have joined nine Operation Lionheart missions for earthquake, tsunami, bushfire and flood relief efforts.
Some of the dogs were also deployed to a Circle Line construction site on Nicoll Highway when it collapsed in 2004, killing four people.
The Straits Times got a glimpse of how dogs are trained during SCDF’s height rescue exercise last Tuesday (September 21).
Attached to his harness, Jack, a black Labrador from Britain, was raised five stories with his master, research specialist Dan, on a system of skates.
A skate block acts as a pulley system anchored to the ground and to the building where two ropes are wound on wheels to facilitate the lifting of rescuers.
Dogs are trained to move up and down the rope system during rescues where they have no other means of reaching victims, trapped, for example, in the upper floors of a collapsed building.
Dogs ride with their owners, and on their own, once they are confident enough.
Faster than humans and blessed with a keener sense of smell, dogs are also trained to smell life and speed up searches.
Sniffing a human scent, they barked in the direction of the scent to signal Dart members to dig through the rubble with equipment.
âJack is a very good research dog, easy to train. It took me less than six months to train him, âsaid WO Dan, who has handled three dogs in 13 years with the Search Platoon.
“But he’s afraid of heights, so I have to pet him and comfort him when we go up.”
She said dog handlers bond with their dogs by feeding, bathing, grooming and caring for them when sick or injured.
Search Specialists are referred to as a dog that they work with throughout their service, and they may manage other dogs as well.
Instead of treats, dogs are rewarded with a tennis ball during their training because it can be difficult to find food in areas affected by the earthquake, and the rescue team does not want their dogs to hunt. food rather than casualties, said 1WO Dan.
When asked if she considered Jack to be her friend, she replied that lines had to be drawn so that Jack did not become just a companion dog to her.
“When you’re relaxed, he’s my friend. But when it comes to work, he has to listen to me.”
Professional boundaries aside, many SCDF officers end up adopting their dogs after the dogs retire.