Task Force: Nebraska Task Force 1 (NE-TF1)
Agency: Lincoln Fire Rescue
Level: DHS/FEMA Certified
Most Recent Certification: October 28, 2018
Search Dog Info
Breed: Black Lab
Born: February 8, 2009
Recruited from: Labradors and Friends Dog Rescue Group – San Diego, CA
Sponsor: Herbert H. and Barbara C. Dow Foundation
Guardians: Susan Durance, Debbie Mansur
George has become the second dog to join the Search Dog ranks at the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) from Labradors and Friends Rescue in San Diego, CA. This big Black Lab with a carefree attitude, amazing agility and boundless energy just needed to find his calling in life.
The traits that helped him excel in Search Dog training are the very same traits that landed him at the rescue in the first place. Fortunately for both George and SDF, Labradors and Friends Rescue’s staff have a great knack for spotting Search Dogs.
At the time, the rescue’s president, Aubree Valentino said, “I was nine months pregnant when George came in, but I knew he had the makings to be a Search Dog…People thought I was crazy to be testing a dog in my condition, but this dog needed a job!” Aubree’s son Luke was born shortly after and she enjoyed watching Luke grow up at the same time that George has progressed through training.
SDF Trainer Kellee Matthews describes George as a very responsive, nice dog. “He has a nicely balanced temperament. He is a maniac when doing search work, but overall is an easy-to-handle and compliant guy,” said Kellee. “It’s just the combination we like to see for a Search Dog.”
George was paired with Firefighter/Paramedic Damon Wirth, and joined Nebraska Task Force 1 (NE-TF1) in November of 2010. “I just love him,” said Damon about his exuberant Black Labrador partner. “He loves to play, loves to work, and has great drive. He goes non-stop.”
Back home in Nebraska, George quickly befriended Damon’s Yellow Lab, nine-year-old Cota, but George is the only one going to the Lincoln Fire-Rescue station with Damon every day.
Damon, who works shifts both as a paramedic and as a firefighter, relishes having a very busy house of dogs. “George and I are a lot alike – we have tons of energy and I can tell George likes to do a good job,” said Damon. “We have a good future ahead of us. It’s very exciting to get started on it!”
In October of 2012, Damon and George traveled to Virginia Beach, VA to be evaluated and achieved FEMA Certification. The team is now able to deploy anywhere that disaster strikes in the nation, fortunately for citizens in disaster areas that have been affected by severe weather in 2013.
In May of 2013, the team deployed with other members of their Task Force to Moore, OK, where a deadly tornado had destroyed much of the city. After several days at work in the rubble alongside canine teams from several states, the governor of Oklahoma was able to declare that all citizens were accounted for, thus bringing to a close George and Damon’s first career deployment.
Less than four months later, George and Damon responded to a massive flood emergency in Boulder County, deploying with NE-TF1 on September 13, 2013. The teams worked to assist the Colorado National Guard and military to bring citizens to safety. Four days after the flooding began, thousands had already been rescued but over 1,000 people were still unaccounted for and the rain continued to fall, making it more difficult for rescuers to get to those areas most affected. George and Damon spent a week in Colorado and only left when they were able to ensure that no one had been left behind. They returned home with new lessons learned from the deployment, which they shared with their teammates and turned into training tools that will help prepare better for the next time disaster strikes.
In addition to lessons learned, the team achieved FEMA Re-Certification in Indianapolis, IN in November of 2015. All teams must be evaluated every three years in order to maintain their active status on a Task Force. With their official qualifications and frequent training opportunities, George and Damon are ready to help those in need when the call comes!