In cases of searching for people buried under the rubble, as, for example, during an earthquake in Turkey and Syria, four-legged rescuers account for 70% of the efforts, and only 30% for the efforts of people, according to many trainers who carry out special training of animals.
The puppy arrived on the territory of the 1st EMAK in Aspropyrgos several years ago. There he was received by Deputy Fireman Dimitris Kolecis, a search and rescue dog trainer. This, after all, will be the mission of Victor, the black Labrador from now on: to participate in rescue operations as part of a special squad to eliminate large-scale disasters – natural (earthquakes, floods, fires), as well as man-made accidents – in order to search for the missing.
Mr. Koletsisom and his faithful dog Victor have worked together on many difficult and dangerous missions, from the Mandre flood in Western Attica (2017) and Mantoudi in Evia (2018) to Lebanon (the deadly explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020) .
These days, they are together again in Turkey, participating in a desperate effort to retrieve survivors from the ruins left by a devastating earthquake. After the 1st EMAK, another rescue dog, Caesar, went to the neighboring country, and from the 2nd – Talos.
Victor’s daily life is no different from that of his two-legged colleagues. In his first year of life, he completed basic training (lasting several months). His performance showed that he was perfect for… the job, so he was “hired for a permanent job.” Since then, the dog, as well as the fighters of the Hellenic Fire Brigade, has not stopped training almost every day in order to always be ready. And of course, the dog passed the “commission” every semester, along with his curator. Their close “connection” and friendly communication are the alpha and omega of the effectiveness of actions.
Deputy Firefighter Dimitris Koletsis talked about search and rescue techniques and why Labradors, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are preferred for these missions (among all other breeds). “Labradoodles have a better sense of smell. And if there is someone “in the blockage”, they will definitely find him. No mechanism, no matter how perfect, can compete with them in this regard. German Shepherds have more stamina, while Malinois have excellent jumping ability. In any case, the common denominator should be the same: dogs are human-oriented, sociable and … mischievous, love the game, because they are mainly trained through it (secondarily with treats). During responsible work, they continue to think that they are being played with and it is imperative to find the specified person or object.
The dog does not understand how important what he is doing and how valuable this ability of theirs is to save every life. “Victor follows me ahead of me during the search work. I follow him a little at a distance, so as not to “confuse him with my smell.” As soon as the dog finds survivors and gives us a signal, i.e. barks, rescuers will send another dog to confirm. Then we start the excavation operation with the appropriate tools and machinery. However, an indispensable condition for the successful outcome of any case is that the dog at all its stages understands exactly what we are asking for,” says Mr. Koletsis.
Are there any losses among dogs? Certainly. But not during their work, but if something happens, for example, if another aftershock and collapse occurs while they are in ruins. Several times the rescue dogs died at the end of the work. Such is their fate, to faithfully serve their master and strain to the limit, to the end point…
The “career” of the rescue dog lasts about ten years. And then? What is her life after “retirement”? Rescue dogs are usually “adopted” by their handler. The same will happen with Victor. Now he is a colleague and true friend of Mr. Koletsis. When he retires from active duty, he will become a member of the coach’s family. And he will go to another world, as it should be – surrounded by loved ones, filled with warmth and affection.