ATF Accelerant Detection Canine Program
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Department of Justice
ATF's Accelerant Detection Canine Program
ATF's ADCP Focus Areas
The Breed of Canine
Terms and Conditions of Participation in the ADCP
Front Royal Canine Training Facility
Attachment 2: ADCP Application Form
This is an overview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
Accelerant Detection Canine Program (ADCP). This state-of-the-art accelerant
detection system was pioneered by ATF and its National Laboratory in the
early 1980's. The ADCP was developed to address today's arson threat to
the general public and to assist the arson investigator in the collection
of field samples for laboratory analysis. It builds upon and incorporates
ATF's expertise in the enforcement of Federal arson laws.
Between 1992 and 1996, ATF investigated 2,970 arson-related fires in
the United States that caused 349 deaths, 1,031 injuries, and approximately
$2.9 billion in reported property damage. These statistics are from ATF's
1995 Arson and Explosives Incidents Report and ATF's Explosives (and Arson)
Incidents System (EXIS) database.
In furtherance of its enforcement goals and to address the increasing
threat to public safety in this country, ATF has committed to establishing
enforcement support programs designed to expand and amplify the investigative
capabilities of its field personnel, as well as other Federal, State, and
local law enforcement entities. The ADCP, with its scientifically validated
methodologies and protocols, is one such initiative.
Arson is one of the most difficult criminal offenses to establish because
most cases are based largely on circumstantial evidence. Generally, there
are no witnesses and the composition of the evidence is consumed by the
fire. Extracting and processing evidence from the crime scene become essential
for developing evidence needed to secure prosecution. The ADCP addresses
the arson investigator's need to have a more accurate, credible, and mobile
accelerant detection resource than currently available field detection devices.
ATF'S Accelerant Detection Canine Program
In a 1984 pilot program, ATF trained the first accelerant detection canine,
a yellow Labrador Retriever named "Nellie," to explore the feasibility
of this new detection system. The results of this study were subsequently
submitted to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. In May 1986, the
first operational canine, "Mattie," began training in conjunction
with the Connecticut State Police (CSP) and was field operational by September
1986. Both canines were acquired from guide dog foundations.
Based on the findings of this pilot study, the National Canine Accelerant
Detection Program was established. Since the inception of the program, ATF
has trained and certified accelerant detection handler/canine teams that
operate throughout the United States with State and local fire departments,
police departments, and fire marshals' offices. These teams are available
for deployment on ATF National Response Team (NRT) activations and other
significant ATF arson investigations.
Included within this information booklet is a comprehensive report published
on the program (see Attachment 1). It was written by ATF's Chief Explosives
Forensic Chemist Richard A. Strobel and ATF Explosives Enforcement Officer
Robert Noll, who technically oversee the ADCP. The report thoroughly explains
the program's focus, training procedures, methodologies, and certification
A brief, less comprehensive explanation of program focus areas, training
procedures, methodologies, and certification standards are described below.
ATF'S ADCP FOCUS AREAS
ATF's study of the feasibility of imprinting a canine with an accelerant
odor identified the following focus areas, which are an integral part of
ATF's ADCP success:
1. A Canine can be conditioned to respond to accelerant odors.
The initial stage of training involves imprinting the canine with the
accelerant odor through classical conditioning. A positive response, or
"alert," by the canine to the presence of an accelerant odor is
indicated when the canine sits.
This is reinforced by a food reward from the trainer. The target odor
selected for training is 50 percent evaporated gasoline, which closely approximates
the evaporated gasoline encountered at many arson scenes. Once the canine
is conditioned to detect gasoline it is trained on other accelerants.
A sample of the evaporated gasoline is placed in a perforated container
to allow the canine access to the vapors. As the gasoline evaporates and
changes composition, it exposes and conditions the canine to a collection
of gasoline odors and compositions. Once conditioning is complete, blind
tests are conducted to establish that there are no false positive or false
2. A canine can respond to an accelerant odor with greater sensitivity
than current field accelerant detection devices.
ATF research has shown that a canine's olfactory and discriminatory capabilities
are more sensitive than the standard field accelerant-detection machines
used by arson investigators. The ADCP provides a more effective detection
system than mechanized field detection instruments, such as hydrocarbon
An additional limitation in field accelerant-detection instruments is
that many classes of compounds used as accelerants are naturally formed
as a result of the fire chemistry that occurs when a synthetic material
burns. Plastics, for example, are naturally composed of hydrocarbons, which
may also be found in many accelerants.
During the burning process, the plastic changes chemical composition,
or undergoes pyrolysis, to form individual hydrocarbons that are detected
by all field accelerant-detection instruments available. This results in
a false positive indication to the presence of an accelerant.
The arson investigator requires a detection system that differentiates
between products of pyrolysis and true accelerants. ATF-trained ADCP canines
offer this capability.
3. A canine can differentiate between accelerants and similar chemical
gases normally present at a fire scene.
ADCP-trained canines are subjected to discrimination training so that
they can learn to differentiate between pyrolysis odors and accelerant odors.
The ADCP conducts blind tests to ensure the canine is able to detect the
target odor without alerting to other odors present. This is achieved by
subjecting the canine to repeated training repetitions on a four-can circular
matrix. The matrix contains various configurations of gasoline and pyrolized
material. The canine is rewarded when it alerts to the can containing the
accelerant sample. Following repeated exposure to this training paradigm,
the canine will be capable of discriminating between the pyrolysis odor
and the pyrolysis odor plus the accelerant. The training process is verified
when the canine alerts on the proper can with no false positive alerts.
ATF conducts yearly recertification seminars to ensure that the canines
continue to detect accelerants in a working environment. Previously processed
fire scenes are used to test the canines' operational and odor recognition
The training methodology is based on a food reward system, utilizing
classical response conditioning wherein the canine is rewarded with food
when a successful detection or "alert" is accomplished.
The food reward conditioning method was chosen over several alternative
methods because it offers the following three advantages:
1. Speed of Training - The canines are subjected to many training repetitions
in the course of a workday by metering out small portions of food, thus
working the canine for longer periods of time. This is difficult with other
reward systems, such as those relying on praise or play.
On a normal training day, ATF canines train with 125 repetitions of smelling
accelerant odors. If a canine trains 125 repetitions a day, it will have
trained 45,000 times a year.
2. Stronger Stimulus - The canines are never fed without exposure to
an accelerant odor. This conditioning stimulus is based on a strong motivator--food.
This allows the canines to train and work for longer periods in more demanding
3. Multiple Handlers - The canines will work with any trained handler
who will feed them. This is a distinct advantage over the widely used "bonded
team" because the canine can work effectively with a properly trained
alternate handler when the regular handler is unavailable.
Canines train with their handlers for 5 weeks. Evaluation at the end
of the training period utilizes blind testing procedures.
ATF's National Laboratory provides technical and scientific oversight
throughout the training and certification process.
Each ATF ADCP canine must pass the laboratory certification test in order
to receive ATF certification. This pass/fail standard ensures the proficiency
of the canines and maintains the integrity of the ADCP.
To date, every handler/canine team entered into the ATF ADCP has successfully
completed the entire training program and has received ATF certification.
These impressive results are due in part to the excellent quality of canines
procured from the guide dog foundations.
Validating the canines' proficiency is of the utmost importance. Therefore,
ATF hosts a mandatory annual training/recertification seminar for each ATF
ADCP-trained canine team. During this seminar, the team's proficiency is
tested (recertified), and the handlers are required to produce their training
logs from the previous year. These seminars include formal training on the
latest advances in canine health and safety, as well as legal updates, practical
field exercises, and formal testing.
THE BREED OF CANINE
Various breeds of canine, classified as working dogs, are used in law
enforcement throughout the world. The only breed of canine used by the ADCP
for accelerant detection is the Labrador Retriever. This breed is hearty,
intelligent, can readily adapt to changing environments, and possesses a
nonaggressive disposition that is necessary for the required work.
Volunteers, called "puppy raisers," raise the dogs from 8 weeks
of age until they are approximately 14 months old. These families give their
time, love, and homes to socialize the puppies. When the ADCP receives a
canine from one of the guide dog foundations, it is housebroken, spayed
or neutered, has received all its vaccinations, and has a clean medical
TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF PARTICIPATION IN THE ADCP
State and local agencies wishing to participate in the ADCP should forward
the attached application form (Attachment 2) to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms at the address indicated on the form. Selections will be made
based on the geographical location and workload of the requesting agency
and the qualifications of the proposed canine handler. Upon receipt of the
application, ATF will forward an acknowledgment letter to the agency, which
will include the date that the ADCP agencies will be selected, the date
of the training class, and the number of handler/canine teams that will
be selected. Upon selection, ATF will forward a Memorandum of Agreement
(MOA) that outlines the selected agency's and ATF's responsibilities and
terms and conditions of participation in the program. ATF, and/or a sponsoring
insurance company, will purchase the canine for the Agency and pay for the
travel, lodging, per diem and miscellaneous expenses associated with the
5-week training class.
The following terms and conditions will apply:
- Provide the training facility for the ADCP. The training will be conducted
at the ATF Canine Enforcement Training Center (CETC), 828 Harmony Hollow
Road, Front Royal, Virginia.
- Provide technical oversight during course curriculum development, training,
and throughout the Agency's participation in the ADCP.
- Provide a forensic chemist to evaluate, test, and certify the canine
for proficiency in detecting accelerant odors. The chemist shall conduct
all annual recertifications.
- Reimburse the Agency for travel-related expenses incurred by the handler
as a result of participation in an NRT activation. ATF will not pay for
the handler's salary, overtime expenses, or other employment benefits incurred
during the handler's participation in an NRT activation.
The Agency will:
- Pay for the handler's salary, overtime, and employment benefits and
ensure that the handler is covered by the Agency's insurance during the
initial 5-week training at the CETC, as well as during all subsequent annual
recertification seminars, in-service training classes, and NRT activations.
- Ensure that the handler is available for weekend training during the
initial 5-week training course at the CETC.
- Have available for its use a laboratory capable of conducting comprehensive
analysis of accelerants. The Agency will ensure that the laboratory prioritizes
the examination of canine alert samples.
- Make the canine team available to ATF for a 1-week annual recertification
seminar. The Agency will be responsible for all travel-related costs incurred
by the handler/canine team during this recertification seminar.
- Make the canine team available to ATF for NRT activations.
- Provide food and veterinary care (after initial training), to include
an annual physical and heartworm check, for the canine during its working
life in the ADCP.
- Continue to train and maintain the accelerant detection canine in the
food reward methodology and protocols in which it will be trained.
- Provide, at its expense, a full-time vehicle to the handler/canine
team suitable for the team's working environment.
- While all personnel who participate in the ADCP will give primary consideration
to the regulations and guidelines imposed by their own department/agency,
they will be mindful of those imposed on their personnel by other departments/
- All personnel who participate in the ADCP shall comply with ATF enforcement
policy regarding the use of firearms, financial and property controls,
investigative techniques, and supervisory controls, during the 5-week training
course, annual recertification seminars, and NRT activations.
- When applicable, all personnel who participate in the ADCP shall qualify
with their respective firearms, using and complying with their own department's/agency's
firearms proficiency standards.
- State and local law enforcement officers who participate in the ADCP
will be made aware of the Justice Department's Use of Force Policy.
- All ADCP participants who are either assigned or may occasionally use
ATF-owned or -leased vehicles will be made aware of ATF policies concerning
use and care of Government-owned vehicles. ATF vehicles may only be used
for official purposes.
- All ADCP participants will be made aware of the Department of Justice's
Standards of Conduct, particularly as they relate to sexual harassment,
EEO and liability issues.
FRONT ROYAL CANINE TRAINING FACILITY
ATF has joined in partnership with the U.S. Customs Service to utilize
the 250-acre Canine Enforcement Training Center (CETC), in Front Royal,
Virginia, to accomplish its training objectives. ATF is in the process of
constructing training and kennel buildings on the compound. ATF's offices
and training building will facilitate the accelerant detection canines'
intense training regimen and will enable the ADCP to train indoors during
inclement weather. The well-equipped, state-of-the-art kennel will house
The Accelerant Detection Canine Program was designed to incorporate all
the support systems necessary to maintain the integrity of the program and
provide other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies with the
most dependable, durable, and mobile accelerant detection system available
today. The ADCP incorporates the research and development of the ATF forensic
laboratory and the technical expertise of ATF canine trainers, forensic
chemists, and special agents into its training regimen. This produces a
final product capable of assisting the fire investigator in the efficient
and expeditious recovery of samples for subsequent submission to the laboratory
for accelerant analysis.
The ADCP recognizes that a canine's indication (alert) to the presence
of an accelerant is only one of the many resources available to the investigator
in determining the origin and cause of a fire. The canine's indication must
never be the sole basis for identification of a particular accelerant material
but must be followed by a thorough laboratory analysis of the collected
Because of the sensitive nature and significance of this investigative
tool, ATF devotes additional resources to complement the handlers in the
field. These resources include
laboratory analysis, Certified Fire Investigators, National Response
Teams, Fire Protection Engineers, the Explosives (and arson) Incidents System
(EXIS), automated audit and major case oversight assistance, profiling,
and polygraph examinations (See Attachment 3).
ATF is proud to share this innovation with other agencies and looks forward
to continued partnerships in our mutual goal to provide for a sound and
Attachment 1: The ATF report on the Accelerant Detection Canine Program
(NOT INCLUDED IN interFIRE VR)
Attachment 2: ADCP Application Form
reprinted with permission