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Injuries and illnesses among human remains detection–certified search-and-recovery dogs deployed to northern California in response to the Camp Fire wildfire of November 2018

Lori E. Gordon DVM1 and Ben Ho MD2
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  • 1 1Massachusetts Task Force 1 National Urban Search and Rescue Response Team, 43 Airport Rd, Beverly, MA 01915.
  • | 2 2California Office of Emergency Services Law Enforcement Division, Canine Coordinator, 3650 Schriever Ave, Mather, CA 95655 (Ho).

Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To document injuries and illnesses incurred by search-and-recovery (S&R) dogs deployed to northern California in response to the Camp Fire wildfire of November 2018 and identify fire scene–specific hazards.

ANIMALS

30 human remains detection–certified S&R dogs deployed to the Camp Fire scene.

PROCEDURES

Handlers of the S&R dogs completed a survey after deployment. Data on illnesses and injuries incurred by the dogs during deployment were summarized, incidence rates were calculated, and fire scene hazards were identified.

RESULTS

Dogs were deployed for 161 days in total, representing 121 operational search shifts that totalled 931 hours. Injuries and illnesses (ie, medical issues) were reported for 20 (67%) dogs. Wounds (lacerations and abrasions) were the most common injury, occurring in 13 (43%) dogs for an incidence rate of 34.4 wounds/1,000 h worked. The most common illness-related issues were weight loss and lethargy or fatigue, each reported for 3 (10%) dogs for an incidence rate of 3.2 events/1,000 h worked. Total incidence rate for all medical issue events was 67.7 events/1,000 h worked. Specific to the Camp Fire scene were respiratory hazards of carcinogenic woodland smoke, aerosolized dry ash, and poison oak fumes; and contact hazards of burning ground or roots, unstable sewer covers, prescription medications, unexploded ammunition, congealed vehicle battery acid, and antifreeze, all hidden under layers of ash.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE

Lacerations, abrasions, weight loss, and lethargy or fatigue were common among the S&R dogs, and ash covering fire scene–specific hazards likely contributed. In addition to safety concerns common to all team personnel, hazards specific to S&R dogs in a postfire environment should be emphasized during hazmat and safety briefings, especially to handlers, search team managers, and medical personnel.

Supplementary Materials

    • Supplementary Table s1 (PDF 160 kb)
    • Supplementary Table s2 (PDF 162 kb)
    • Supplementary Table s3 (PDF 164 kb)

Contributor Notes

Dr. Gordon's present address is Veterinary Surgical Care Inc, 4 Rose Ln, Atkinson, NH 03811.

Address correspondence to Dr. Gordon (Jellegl@gmail.com).