He was a vital part of the Westchester County’s cause and origin team, having helped discover the accelerants for a significant amount of arson-caused fires, and at almost 11 years old Blaze, a canine arson investigator, died on Wednesday, July 27.
To his handler Eric DiBartolo, who is also the Yorktown Highway Superintendent, and wife Elizabeth, Blaze was much more than a mere dog. He was a partner, a friend—he was family.
DiBartolo started working with Blaze when the German Shepard was still just a pup. On Dec. 4, 2002 the two passed their certification and became a team.“Our first call was on Christmas Day in 2002. It was on Horton Drive in Mohegan Lake,” recalled DiBartolo. “I was so nervous but I put the harness on Blaze and he was ready to go.”
In between their first call together and their last one, which coincidentally was also in Mohegan Lake, DiBartolo estimates that they went on 800 to 1,000 calls.“I love it, but he really loved it,” he said. “The radio would go off and he would be jumping up and down all excited and I would not even be out of bed yet.”
“He never missed,” DiBartolo stated. “If we took a sample from a room, I never had the labs call me back and say there is nothing there. If he had a positive indication in the field I always got it back positive from the lab.”
DiBartolo was not the only one who shared a bond with Blaze, Elizabeth did as well.“I was a tri-athlete when we first got him and he was my exercise partner. We would go hiking together and on my days off he could come everywhere with me,” she said. “He filled a void in my heart. He was one-of-a-kind.”
On June 26, Blaze was diagnosed with cancer. The next day DiBartolo called James Cuffe, deputy fire coordinator for Westchester County Department of Emergency Service to tell him that Blaze would be retiring.
Then on July 27 Blaze woke up with white gums, a sign of internal bleeding and the DiBartolos brought him to the vet and conceded that it was time to put the dog down. Their mourning was shared by all those who knew Blaze.
“We were very fortunate to have Blaze working with us over the past several years and performing an extraordinary job on each and every investigation to which he responded,” stated Cuffe. “As many know, Blaze was instrumental in several investigations, prosecutions and convictions, most notably in Peekskill in October 2008, where he assisted in securing the evidence that led to the conviction of Jason Bethea in the double homicide.”
“Blaze was an exceptional canine who worked diligently for nothing more than to please his handler, searching for ignitable liquid vapor residue,” said Richard Barlette, chief of the arson bureau at the NYS Office of Fire Prevention & Control (OFPC). “He will be missed by all and fondly remembered for his work by fire and police officials throughout the state, as if losing one of their own. “
“Blaze and Eric were an extraordinary K9 Team and Westchester County can be proud of their dedication and accomplishment, said Randi Shadic, deputy chief arson bureau at OFPC. “Having worked with Blaze and Eric for many years at K9 training In-service workshops and re-certifications we shared a bond of the professionalism and dedication that only K9 Handlers can truly know.”
DiBartolo was an arson investigator for 10 years prior to being a handler, but he does not know if he can continue in that role without his partner. “We will get another pet, but I don’t ever want to handle another dog,” he said. “For the loyalty that Blaze gave me for ten years I never want to handle another dog again. I loved it and it was great, but no more.”
Blaze was one of the few canine arson investigators in the state. When DiBartolo and Blaze first teamed up there were 16 other pairs. Today the state is down to 3.