Two Kansans will be the first state-level Urban Search and Rescue canine handlers from outside of Oklahoma to graduate from the Ground Zero Emergency Training Center in Okla. City this Thursday. The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) has partnered with Ground Zero to provide two Kansas Urban Search and Rescue canine handlers with dogs and specialized training. Ground Zero, a non-profit organization started by former University of Oklahoma head football coach Barry Switzer and his wife Becky, has provided dogs to Oklahoma Task Force 1, as well as numerous other teams in Oklahoma and federal teams across the country.
On Sept. 17, Kansas sent the first two handlers, Chad Winton, Wichita Fire Department/KS-TF5, and Andy Kear, Sherman County Rural Fire/KS-TF7, to Tuttle, Okla. to start an intensive two-week, handler training course where they have trained and been paired with a canine partner. After returning to Kansas, the teams will train with other members of the Kansas Task Force K9 Unit to achieve a Type I certification in disaster search. Currently, the KS-TF K9 Unit has five certified canine teams with a goal of eventually having 12 certified teams in the state.
“It is an honor to be working with an organization like Ground Zero,” Randy Hill, OSFM Search and Rescue Coordinator, said. “Kansas needs to build its cadre of canine search teams that specialize in locating victims after a disaster like a tornado or building collapse.”
While the goal is to provide deployable canine teams for the State of Kansas, Hill added, having certified disaster search dogs will be a tremendous benefit to each handler’s employer and local jurisdiction.
Ground Zero will host a “Passing of the Leash,” ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 11 a.m. During this ceremony, they will be presenting four Urban Search and Rescue canines to four canine handlers from across the United States. The ceremony will be held at the Survivor Tree in the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, the site of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building that claimed 168 lives. Media are encouraged to attend.
“The ceremony is important and marks the official beginning of the team’s journey of becoming another life-saving asset in disaster response,” Darrell Wilkerson, Ground Zero Program Director, said.
The handler and canine teams projected to take part in the ceremony are:
- New Jersey (FEMA) Task Force (TF) 1 handler Charlie LaTerra and K-9 Ziva
- Kansas TF handler Chad Winton and K-9 Sailor
- Kansas TF handler Andy Kear and K-9 Zoom
- Oklahoma TF-1 handler Jeff Hanlon and K-9 Finn
For more information on the Ground Zero Emergency Training Center visit: www.groundzerosaveslives.com