Cody, a five-year old Dalmatian of Eugene, OR, carries on the ages-old association of Dalmatians with fire trucks. But much more than a ‘poster dog,' he’s a badge-wearing representative of the Eugene Fire Department whose work involves everything from fire safety instruction to an active therapy ‘practice.’ Cody also knows how to make learning about fire prevention a tail-wagging good time for kids and community members.
In fact, Cody is what his owner and trainer, Deputy Fire Marshall Amy Linder, calls an “extreme therapy dog.” Not only does he visit and comfort patients at local hospitals, as a certified crisis response canine, he travels far and wide to serve people in need. Cody was among the teams that responded to the shooting spree in which six people were killed at Northern Illinois University in 2008. There he comforted students, faculty and staff.
Early this month Linder says she and Cody will be honored to attend the National Fallen Firefighters Weekend in Maryland where he will be one of just two therapy dogs on site to support families of firefighters who lost their lives.
Most days Cody (also known as Majestic Kennels Fire Code Inspector) isn’t dealing with crisis; he’s preventing it by making learning about fire safety fun for kids. While he mainly works with first graders, says Linder, who’s been training Cody since he was six weeks old, he’s happy to teach anyone he meets about “stop, drop and roll” or, when an emergency vehicle comes close, “Sirens and lights — Move to the right!”
Linder and Cody have a rhyme for just about every fire hazard. Linder says that some concerns are year round, like the fire risk posed by candles. For this hazard, Cody teaches: “When you go out — Blow out!” The beloved canine even has his own personal slogan: “Fire safety fever — catch it with Cody!”
During winter months, says Linder, fire dangers to humans and pets often come from space and baseboard heaters. Fires start when people leave cloths, clothes and other combustibles too close to heaters. Improper disposal of fireplace ashes is another leading cause of house fires.
Also high on the list are cooking fires, and those caused by overloading electrical outlets. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) cautions against plugging too many appliances into individual outlets.
Many fires start from something placed too near the stove, like a dishtowel, potholder or food packaging. The NFPA suggests staying in the kitchen when simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, and never leaving the house when something’s cooking. Use a timer so you don’t forget something’s cooking, and keep a lid for handy for smothering, should a cooking fire occur.
Much of Cody’s work involves teaching kids what do in the event of fire. He uses a giant fire alarm that, when it goes off, the message is: “Get out, get out, get out!” Cody reminds parents and adults to always make sure alarms have working batteries. Another teaching tool is Cody’s giant cell phone, which he uses to teach kids to dial 911. Both the phone and fire detector, which have audio effects, were made and donated by local businesses.
Cody gleefully teaches kids how to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothing catches fire, and how to crawl on their bellies (because smoke rises) to escape smoke. Kids also learn that once they escape a fire, they need to get to a meeting place so their family knows they are safe.
Parents and pet parents should also make sure their house address is clearly visible, so the fire department can find the house quickly. Also vital is having a home escape plan that includes the pets. According to the American Kennel Club, fire experts say the number-one reason dogs die in fires is because they are confined to pens and can’t get out.
Keep a collar and leash by the door so you, a neighbor or a fireperson can quickly catch and get him or her to safety. For cats, if you can’t keep a carrier handy, a pillowcase will work in a pinch to scoop up kitty and keep her from running off in the aftermath. Post a sticker on your front door or window indicating you have pets in the house. Free stickers showing type and number of pets in the home are available at ASPCA.org, courtesy of The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Talking about fire is scary, but Cody makes it easier, says Linder. She says the first thing kids ask when they meet firefighters is: “Can I have a sticker?” In the next breath they want to know: “Where’s your firedog?”
Cody has his own trading cards; he carries them in his official firedog vest pocket, and kids are encouraged to ask for a card when they meet him. There are currently four, and kids are encouraged to collect them all. You can follow Cody on Twitter, Facebook, or on his web page.