Vancouver firefighters using sniffer dog to detect bed bugs
Dogs are a familiar sight in fire halls across North America, but Vegas the beagle is on a special mission to make sure the creepy-crawlies firefighters might encounter in the field don’t follow them home.
The sniffer dog and his handler, Marcos Michelet, visit Vancouver Fire Hall No. 1 several times a month to make sure it isn't contaminated with bed bugs.
"I walk the dog along the gear. Once he smells the bed bugs, he'll give an alert. His alert is that he sits down and he stares at where the smell is coming from," said Michelet. "We inspect trucks. We inspect the fire hall itself. We inspect their gear."
His company, K9 Inspectors, has dogs specifically trained to sniff out the critters.
Firefighters' gear can become contaminated with bed bugs while out on a call. Crews can then carry the pests into fire trucks and other department vehicles, which then make their way back to the halls.
In a few cases, bed bugs have even gotten into firefighters' personal vehicles.
"We're coming across bed bugs on a daily basis, even from just routine medical calls," said deputy chief Brian Godlonton. "We've had dozens if not 100 exposures in the last year."
If Vegas does detect bed bugs, the gear is bagged up and taken to the department's very own bed bug oven.
The contaminated equipment is cooked for two hours at about 50 C. The process is enough to kill any bed bugs inside.
"From what I understand, we're probably…only fire department—certainly in Canada, but maybe North America—that has a heat treatment facility on site to deal with these issues in a timely manner."
The oven and the dog are expensive, but necessary measures, Godlonton said.
"If it's not identified right away, the bugs can be transported with their staff in their personal vehicles and potentially back to their homes."
According to Michelet, an adult female bed bug can spawn about five new bugs each week, which themselves will start multiplying, leading to exponential growth that can quickly get out of control.
"In six months, the whole fire hall could be fully taken," he said. "It's a real issue, not just in Vancouver, but all over the Lower Mainland and all over Canada and the world."
While firefighters follow strict decontamination procedures depending on the nature and location of a call, Godlonton said bed bugs are simply a reality of the job.
"Unfortunately, that's the business that we're in," he said. "It's one of the ongoing challenges that first responders are all exposed to.
"We need to do our due diligence to mitigate the risk and the health of our firefighters."
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson