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From Ashes to Answers: A New Monument Honors Arson Dogs

A 450-pound bronze sculpture was unveiled on Wednesday at New York City’s Fire Museum on Spring Street. “From Ashes to Answers,” which depicts a firefighter and his dog, was the inspiration of Jerry Means, a former fireman and arson investigation agent in Colorado.

“I was inspired by my first working dog, Erin,” said Means. “She investigated over 800 fires before her retirement in 2007. During the training process, I started meeting other dogs and handlers and hearing their stories, and I thought, 'These dogs and these handlers need a national monument.'” Arson dogs are specially trained to detect accelerants such as gasoline, lighter fluid and other petroleum products at the site of blazes.

Means’ project was sponsored in part by the American Humane Association, which recently inaugurated a service dog recognition program.  His current canine partner, Sadie, a six-year-old black Labrador Retriever, was the 2011 Hero Dog winner in the law enforcement/arson category.

She is also the canine model for the sculpture, which Means commissioned from 22-year-old Austin Weishel, an artist and a firefighter who is also based in Colorado. Weishel, who says he heads for his studio as soon as he finishes his shifts at the firehouse (his station is not far from a massive blaze currently in the national press), spent 1,500 hours on “Ashes.” 

Both Means and Weishel say the heart of the piece is the “connection” between the fireman and the dog as they looking into each other’s eyes.

“We use these dogs in the worst conditional possible,” observed Means, “where your floors are burnt out and ceilings are collapsing.  “It’s no different that two firefighters entering a building together — they’ve got each other, and that’s what they’ve got."

“From Ashes to Answers” is finishing up a 12-city tour on its way to its permanent home, Station No. 3 in Washington, D.C., near the Capitol. It reflects a growing awareness of the importance of service dogs in our society. Two recent books profiled dogs in the military, while a recent New Yorker magazine feature showcased New York City bomb detection dogs and their handlers.