KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Like most smiling, slobbering Labradors, Bailey loves to run, and she loves to play catch. So much so that it’s easy for the Kincaids to forget sometimes that she’s more than just the loyal family dog.
Then the girls of the house tried to paint her nails one night. Bailey wasn’t happy with the nail polish - and it wasn’t the color.
“She knew it was an accelerant,” said Travis Kincaid, an investigator with the Knoxville Fire Department and Bailey’s handler.
The 5-year-old yellow Labrador retriever is KFD’s first certified arson dog and one of only a few such service animals working in Tennessee. She has made the difference in countless arson investigations since she began her work in May 2009, and is now among the nominees for the American Humane Association’s 2014 Hero Dog Awards.
Online voting is underway for the annual awards, which recognize service animals in a variety of categories. The winners will be announced later this year.
“It’s amazing the difference she makes as far as time and accuracy,” Kincaid said. “It could take us eight to 10 hours to actually do a thorough investigation to tell if we’ve got an arson. Bailey can go through a house in 15 minutes and tell us if there’s ignitable liquids or accelerants anywhere.”
Bailey quickly proved her worth in 2010 at the scene of a late-night, suspicious house fire in East Knoxville.
The animal immediately discovered the remnants of two Molotov cocktails used to ignite the house, and then discovered another, unexploded bottle in the backyard.
Ultimately, Bailey led Kincaid and other investigators across the street to a crowded nightclub where the suspect still was inside.
Both Bailey and Kincaid are graduates of a State Farm-sponsored training program administered through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
“Insurance fraud, arson, those are crimes that affect everybody. Somebody shoots somebody for the most part it’s just directly related to the person who was shot,” Kincaid said. “Unlike a bullet once you start a fire, you have no idea where it’s going to go, or how many people it’s going to affect or how many people it’s going to hurt.”
And Kincaid credits Bailey with helping KFD’s Fire and Explosives Investigation Unit achieve one of the highest conviction rates in the country.
“Of those cases we make arrests in, we have a 99 percent conviction rate,” he said.
The veteran investigator said he is equally impressed, though, with how well the highly trained service dog has bonded with his family.
Bailey is a constant companion to Travis and Jennifer Kincaid’s 8-year-old special-needs son, Landon.