The best noses in the business

A heroic fire dog has returned to his old stomping ground on his 100th birthday – to meet the two generations of K9s who followed in his paw prints.

Springer Spaniel Spencer and owner Darren Booth earlier this month returned to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service five years after they hung up their fire boots.

The boisterous K9 recently celebrated his 14th birthday – the equivalent to 100-years-old in dog years – and so decided to take a walk down memory lane.

Spencer was Tyne and Wear’s first specialist Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) dog and so it was emotional trip back to the Service’s Barmston Training Centre.

And, as a special birthday treat, the trail-blazing pooch met the two USAR dogs who followed in his paw prints.

Belgian Malinois Frankie, aged six, was Spencer’s replacement back in 2018 before getting injured whilst providing search and rescue support.

Her departure led to Labrador Dutch Herder cross Merlin, aged three, being put through his search and rescue exams to take over the reins.

But Spencer wasn’t the only one saying hello to familiar faces as owner Darren returned to the Service in which he served as a firefighter for more than 30 years.

He was TWFRS’s first ever USAR dog handler before he retired alongside best mate Spencer, later being replaced by Frankie and Merlin’s handler Steve Carr.

Darren said: “One of my proudest moments with Spencer is when we attend a mission readiness test in France in 2016 alongside eight other countries from around Europe.

“There weren’t many Springer Spaniels on the course as other countries weren’t using them yet, but Spencer showed them how incredible he was as a search and rescue dog find every single casualty on every single test.

“I was a firefighter for over 30 years, riding on the trucks till the very end, but that has got to be my proudest moment with Spencer – we showed everyone incredible dogs are when it comes to rescuing people.

“Spencer may be 100-years-old in dog years but he is still happy and healthy and we are both really enjoying our retirement.

“It was really special to see Frankie again and meet Merlin finally and spend some time with Steve to see what’s changed since we’ve retired.”

Today (Wednesday) current dog handler Steve, a Watch Manager in the Service USAR team, has thanked Darren for paving the way for fire dogs in the North East.

He said “Spencer and Darren were the first of their kind here in Tyne and Wear and it’s been an honour for me to carry on that legacy with Frankie and Merlin.

“It was great to see the three of them together; they’ve achieved so much in their careers with the fire service.

“Merlin has some big paws to fill following in Frankie and Spencer’s footsteps but I have no doubt he can do it.”

Merlin is a qualified National Resilience USAR dog, which means he can be deployed to any incident across the country that needs canine urban search and rescue help.

This could range from a person lost in the woods to someone trapped in a collapsed building, Merlin alerts WM Carr by barking when he has located the person.

You can find out more about TWFRS’s USAR capability on their website.