WASHINGTON — In the wake of a building collapse on Kennedy St. NW in Washington D.C. Thursday, one of the heroes that emerged is a unique rescue dog.
Her name is Kimber. She’s a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois.
While some dogs search only for the dead, Kimber focuses exclusively on the living, according to her handler Chris Holmes of D.C. Fire and EMS.
Kimber was back on duty Sunday after suffering an injury that required stitches to one of her paws, during the dramatic rescue in which she pinpointed a buried man who was eventually saved by firefighters.
“We'll be ready for the next one!” said Holmes as he explained that trainers have determined that the dogs are more agile, effective and less likely to suffer more serious injuries if they are allowed to do their work without protective foot coverings despite the danger.
“She's a live find dog, so she can tell the difference between live and deceased human beings and alert us to where those live human beings are first, even though we can't see them," Holmes explained. "Even though those people may be buried within the rubble. She can sense by her sense of smell, and let us know by doing a bark alert.”
Holmes recalled details of Thursday's rescue.
“She did a great job letting us pinpoint exactly where he was, and alerting us he was still alive," Holmes said. "His pocket that he had of survivability was so small that he could feel the movement of our members trying to extricate him. So finding exactly where he was and to be able to tell where those chainsaws and Sawzall’s should cut was paramount. We didn't want to accidentally hit him."
Holmes added that the victim was relieved and comforted to see Kimber as he was being carried to an ambulance.
"He was like, 'oh! It's a dog!' And he started to pet her, and he was just a little happier that a dog was there, trying to lick his face," Holmes said.
Kimber has been deployed to work in disaster zones from D.C. to Puerto Rico and St. Croix in the wake of hurricanes, Holmes said.
Kimber was bred specifically for resuce work and was trained by Holmes before joining DC Fire/EMS as the only dog capable of focusing exclusively on live victims.
In all the department has five K9 members, including two cadaver dogs as well as dogs trained to detect evidence of arson.
"She has been the highlight of my career," Holmes said.
The victim of Thursday's incident was seriously injured and has suffered some paralysis, according to family members who spoke to WUSA9 asking that his name not be published.