Virginia fire department finds secret weapon in dog named Cinco


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — By most accounts, Whitney Gibbs’ dog Cinco is a pretty normal pup.

He can be found on the couch catching some Zs, or getting out his zoomies while playing fetch.

While many people would consider their dog to be special, Gibbs, who’s Chesapeake’s deputy fire marshal, says his dog really brings the heat.

“I think he’s the total package because he has that switch,” said Gibbs.

In a matter of a call from dispatch, Cinco goes from man’s best friend to crime-fighting coworker.

“This is accelerant detection canine Cinco, ATF-certified, sworn with the Chesapeake Fire Department,” explained Gibbs.

Cinco, a 3-year-old lab, has some strong sniffing abilities. So strong, in fact, he uses his snout to sniff out accelerants at fires like one in Newport News, where a woman died in early February. He’s the only canine in the region trained to do so, and one of just a few in the entire state.

“He’s certified in six classes and that starts at like gasoline then all the way down to like an odorless paint thinner,” said Gibbs.

Cinco went through six weeks of ATF training back in 2019 and has been continuously training ever since. It’s a full-time job, as the pup doesn’t ever just get a bowl of food. Instead, he has to work for every bite. Which means a lot of planting practice items at the dog park.

“With being the regional ATF-certified dog, we are a regional asset. We’ve been to Virginia Beach Suffolk, James City County all the way up to Stanton Virginia — all of the surrounding cities have called,” said Gibbs.

The way it works is the furry detective will be called to a scene and sniff around for those accelerants. He’s worked as many as three fires in one day.

“He is smelling the smallest trace amounts of an ignitable liquid — after a fire before a fire, inside, outside, on clothes, on people in cars, middle of a football field, middle of the woods,” said Gibbs.

If he alerts to something, that’s sent off to a lab for testing. And he’s almost always right on the money.

“To have those kinds of immediate results right there at the scene, it’s just a wealth of information and really helps guide the rest of the investigation,” said Lt. R.J. Oliver with the Chesapeake Fire Department.

“We always talk about he’s the first lab sample because everything he finds has to go to the real lab,” joked Gibbs.

Then it’s up for human investigators to see the investigation all the way through.

“The goal is for him to be a tool to help us solve crimes and scenes to determine if a fire was malicious or accidental, if something was used or not used. And that’s what we use him for, is to help us find that first sample,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs says the samples this detective dog finds have come back from labs positive for ignitable liquids.

The pup’s only had his paws on the ground for a year. In that time, there haven’t been any convictions yet because court cases are still pending and were slowed down during the pandemic.

However, Gibbs believes that day in court is coming, and a criminal will be put behind bars.

And it’s all thanks to this good boy.

“I got what I wanted, a good partner and best friend, that’s for sure,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs says it’s important to note Cinco works fires that are and aren’t suspicious. That way, he doesn’t always get used to finding evidence.

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