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Vineland Fire Department Welcomes Arson Dog to Team

The Vineland Fire Department is pleased to welcome a new four-legged member to its Fire Investigation Bureau. She is K9 “Radiant,” who recently graduated from the Atlantic County K9 Academy “K9 Patrol Scent Class 13” after 16 weeks of rigorous training. Her handler is Investigator Phillip McMahon.

Additional guidance on setting up the program was also provided by Captain Rodman Meyer with the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety K9 Unit (NJDFS).

“Radiant is a two-year old yellow Labrador retriever,” McMahon said. “I acquired her in September of 2023 after she was donated to the Joe Nick K9 Training Academy by a Vineland family. Her personality is friendly, energetic, and affectionate, but she displays a real commitment to work when called upon.”

“As an accelerant detection dog, Radiant has been trained to alert to the presence of various flammable liquids commonly used by arsonists to feed their fires, including substances such as gasoline, kerosene, and lighter fluid,” McMahon continued. “She really gives me an upper hand in the investigative process. Her ability to identify odors that aren’t able to be detected by human noses, and to pinpoint the location for evidence collection is remarkable.”

According to the Phoenix Veterinary Center, a dog’s nose has up to 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to about six million in a normal human. Additionally, the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than ours, and they are naturally attracted to new and interesting odors. Labrador retrievers are uniquely qualified for the role of an arson dog and are the most sought-after breed.

“Having an Arson K9 means we no longer have to rely on outside agencies for this capability, which allows for a quicker response time by our fire investigators,” said Fire and EMS Director Richard G. Franchetta, EJD, RMC.

“The department did have a K9 Arson program many years ago, but unfortunately it was discontinued. Chief Luigi Tramontana, Deputy Chief Mark A. Cifaloglio, Fire Investigator McMahon, and Vineland Police Department K9 Handler Dwight Adams worked in collaboration to bring this important program back,” Franchetta said.

“I am ecstatic that we have a new member to add to our team,” Chief Tramontana said. “Radiant’s nose is so highly developed that she can quickly locate even the smallest traces of flammable liquids, which can help investigators determine the cause of a fire. “I look forward to the many ways she will be able to contribute to the safety and well-being of our community.”

“In Vineland, we put a real focus on public safety,” Mayor Fanucci said. “Our Police, Fire, and EMS personnel do a fantastic job of protecting and serving our community, and programs like this add another important capability to our investigators by making it easier to identify suspicious fires. ”

According to city officials, in addition to working cases in Vineland and Cumberland County if needed, Investigator McMahon and Radiant will be placed on a NJDFS backup list to conduct olfactory scene examinations throughout the State of New Jersey. When not working, Radiant will also participate in community outreach and educational events throughout the year to show off her abilities.