RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Fire Department’s Arson K-9 Erny has a new accessory to protect him while investigating fires.
Erny is sporting a brand new, custom made bullet and stab protective vest while on duty thanks to the nonprofit organization, Vested Interest in K-9’s, Inc.
“He’s still trying to get used to it. It’s like when you wear new shoes, kind of feels funny,” said Richmond Fire Investigator, Brian Acors, with a laugh as he strapped Erny in.
The vest is embroidered with the words, “Born to Love - Trained to Serve - Loyal Always.”
Investigator Acors said he wanted to make sure his partner was safe, so he sent in an application for the vest with Vested Interest in K-9's, Inc. Then heard back shortly after that it had been rewarded to them.
“You’re trying to look after the safety of both of you, so I put my protective clothing on, I’m going to do my due diligence and try to protect my partner as well,” Acors said.
Acors first took Erny under his wing in September, when the 3-year-old pup became the Richmond Fire Department's fourth arson detection dog. Erny replaced K9 Lt. Pearl, who passed away in July 2019.
The two work as a team. Acors said the pair would go to fires, and if there was a suspicion that flammable liquids may have been used, that’s where Erny came in.
“Erny can go in and he shows us right where with his nose,” said Acors. “He puts his nose right on the spot that is suspected to have the liquid on it.”
Acors said Erny was trained to sniff out the most basic compounds found in ignitable liquids like gasoline and kerosine, often used in arsons. But the job has its risks.
“So, a lot of time there’s shards of wood, broken glass, different pieces of medal that have been broken off or bent in a fire,” said Acors.
He said the new ballistic vest would not only protect Erny on the streets, but during those fire investigations as well.
“Our goal is to provide bullet and stab protective vests for every working law enforcement K9,” said Sandy Marcal, President and Founder of Vested Interest in K9’s, Inc.
The vests typically cost $1,000, but thanks to the donation from Marcal's nonprofit, Erny got his for free.
Marcal said she started the nonprofit after learning about military and working dogs through a show called ‘Rain’ about Vietnam War dogs.
“He did not have the opportunity to come home after his deployment with his handler, which was really upsetting to me because they had such a strong bond together,” said Marcal.
Since the launch of her nonprofit in 2009, Marcal said Vested Interest in K-9’s Inc., had donated more than 4,100 vests to K-9s around the country.
One of them, Marcal said, made all the difference for a K-9 named Gabo, who was working for the Jonesboro Police Department in Arkansas in 2018.
“He was injured in the line of duty. He was shot five times by a barricaded suspect at close range. And the vest saved his life,” said Marcal. “I had an opportunity to go to Arkansas and meet canine Gabo who went back to work two months after his injuries. And his handler, Investigator Johnson and I held that vest in our hands that was covered in blood. And I held the nine-millimeter round that was pulled out of the vest. And that's the round that would have killed his life… it was probably the most emotional trip of my life.”
Investigator Acors said the Richmond Fire Department was fortunate to not have had any K-9 injuries, and he hoped to keep it that way.
“I mean we protect ourselves with all the crazy firefighter gear that we wear. Why not protect your K-9 as well?” Said Acors.
Marcal said any department that has a need was welcome to go through their website (https://www.vik9s.org/) and inquire about a vest.