- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - He makes it look so effortless, bounding over a makeshift rubble pile of wooden crates, plywood and tires, searching feverishly, tail wagging like crazy. He’s trained to do something very serious, but he doesn’t know that.

To him, it’s the ultimate game.

When he’s found what he’s looking for, he barks to alert others he’s found something.

Now he gets rewarded with a toy or a treat.

Cisco, South Dakota’s first and only search and rescue dog, is on the clock, and this is just a normal day for him.

“He is a live search dog, which means his job is to find live people and is specifically trained in the area of structure collapse,” Jim Bussell with the Rapid City Fire Department said.

The 2-year-old Belgian Malinois was sworn in to the Rapid City Fire Department in 2014 under the care of handler and 14-year firefighter Jeremy Gibbons.

Many of us on this side of the state didn’t know about Cisco until the morning of Dec. 2, when the former Copper Lounge building collapsed.

In Rapid City, it was just a normal day for Gibbons and Cisco, until Gibbons received a call that South Dakota Task Force 1, a group of firefighters from Rapid City, Watertown, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, had been requested to the scene. Task Force 1, which includes Gibbons and Cisco, is a part of the South Dakota Department of Homeland Security and is trained in specialized rescue techniques including land-based search, structural-collapse, swift-water, confined-space, high-angle and rope rescue.

“We were going to drive down (to Sioux Falls), and in the process they called us and said they were going to fly him,” Gibbons said.

Moments later, the two were on an airplane, courtesy of Avera Health, and headed to Sioux Falls.

When they arrived on scene, those who had worked with Gibbons and Cisco before knew what they were there for.

“The nice thing was I had trained with a lot of the Sioux Falls, Aberdeen and Watertown guys, and they knew who I was and who Cisco was, so it was like, ‘Hey, man, here we are.’ And they were like, ‘Let’s get him up on the pile right away.’ “

Cisco is South Dakota’s only search and rescue dog. Here, he searches the rubble pile of the collapsed Copper Lounge building in Sioux Falls.

While Cisco and Jeremy were heading to Sioux Falls, Emily Fodness and one of the dogs were rescued from the rubble pile in the early afternoon. At around 5 p.m., it was Cisco’s turn to search the scene.

Once on the pile, Cisco used his agility and training to maneuver over the rubble without hesitation. His body size made it easy to check areas where those on two legs couldn’t go. It was a thorough search, with every command obeyed.

Cisco didn’t bark that day, and the body of Ethan McMahon was recovered a short time after Cisco had finished his search.

But Cisco was instrumental in locating the two dogs that remained missing. Gibbons knows Cisco and his habits, and he could tell that the dog was on to something. He kept going back to two places. The first place was the area where Emily Fodness and the first dog where found. Gibbons thought that might be because a scent remained from earlier. But the second spot was farther away. Gibbons noted both spots where Cisco was paying most of his attention and told those rescuers on scene.

Later that night, the second of three dogs was found alive. The spot? The second location that Cisco kept returning to.

Two days later, those on scene with the Sioux Falls Fire Department thought they heard barking coming from the rubble pile. A short time later, the third dog was found alive. The spot? Near where Emily Fodness and the first dog were found, a spot that Cisco had been interested in.

“I just noted and let the right guys in charge know that he (Cisco) has an interest, and we kind of looked into it and decided that ‘we need to get in there and look,’ and that is where they found the second dog,” Gibbons said. “They also told me that the other spot of interest was where the third dog came from.”

“There’s a lot of things that go into having search dogs,” Fire Chief of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Sideras said, regarding the fact that Rapid City has a search and rescue dog while Sioux Falls does not. “One is the amount of training that they have to have . and the need. It’s not as simple as going out and buying a dog.”

The dog and its handler must get acquainted with one another. The dog has to get used to the handler’s voice and commands. It took about six months for Cisco and Gibbons to start to mesh and for Cisco’s ability to really take off, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2hN9MGF ) reported.

Gibbons and Cisco have spent thousands of hours training - 20 hours a week - since he was sworn in. Gibbons built the Rapid City courses from scratch that Cisco trains on, all with donated materials.

The pair have trained all over the country. Where Gibbons goes, Cisco goes. When Gibbons is on the job, Cisco is at the station with him. He is a working dog, with working hours and mandated time off for rest.

When the members of South Dakota Task Force 1 get together for training, Cisco is right there as an equally important part of the team.

Sideras said the time it took Cisco and Gibbons to fly to the site from Rapid City was about the same length of time it would have taken a dog from Minneapolis to arrive.

“The delay in getting Cisco out here did not impact the operation in any way,” Sideras said.

Now that Cisco has been seen in action, Gibbons hopes that they will be called in to help more often.

To spread the word of Cisco’s availability, Gibbons has taken to social media.

“I started him a Facebook page, which sounds kind of silly in a way, but getting people to realize the state now has this resource available to them. I’ve tried to spread the word about, ‘He is here; we have trained him with lots of hours. Please use him.’ “

On the page, you can see photos and videos of him in action during training exercises.

In the meantime, Cisco continues to train and be prepared for when he’ll be called on again. This pup has your back.

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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