His highly trained nose is more sensitive to gasoline and other ignitables than most electronic detectors.
And his knack for sniffing out fire-causing compounds is a coveted skill in a city that saw arsons increase by 25 percent last year.
The Fire Department introduced its newest hire Thursday -- a yellow Labrador retriever named Brad who already has become a key player on the arson investigation team. During his first day on the job a few weeks ago, he was shuttled to three fire scenes.
Brad demonstrated his technique Thursday before a crowd of city officials and reporters. Making his way across a field off Louisiana Street, he zeroed in on containers that fire officials had filled with gas and kerosene. After completing the mission in seconds, the crafty canine received a treat from his handler. Lt. Sal Colangelo, commander of the fire marshal's office, said the 18-month-old dog is on a food rewards system: When the job gets done, the dog gets tasty morsels.
"We're trying to go to that same system with other city personnel," quipped Mayor Byron W. Brown.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives supplied the dog to Buffalo to help in arson probes -- and not just in Buffalo. Other communities can request Brad's assistance. In fact, the dog already has been used in investigations in Amherst and Cheektowaga.
Colangelo said Brad is one of only two dogs in the state who went through a 12-week ATF-training course that certified him to detect 21 ignitable liquids. Nationwide, only 84 dogs have been trained by ATF experts to detect accelerants.
Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo thinks the new dog will help speed investigations and save the city money.
"It would take crews quite a bit longer to do an investigation," Lombardo said. "He's going to a spot, identify spots and then [investigators] can do their digging."
Brad is expected to be on the job for about five years. And based on recent trends, he could be kept quite busy. On Thursday fire officials discussed the arson problem with Citi-Stat, Buffalo's accountability panel. There were 400 arsons in the city last year, up from 321 a year earlier. About two-thirds of last year's arsons occurred in vacant buildings.
Colangelo also supplied figures showing that the number of arson arrests increased by 41 percent last year, with law officers making 72 arrests. Arson investigations jumped by about 35 percent, while overtime costs in the unit increased by nearly 20 percent.