Dog’s Nose for Accelerants Nothing to Sniff at


Chief investigator Dan Runnestrand of the Orange County Fire Authority calls Lenny “the wonder dog.”

“He’s been phenomenal,” said Runnestrand of the 4 1/2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who can sniff out a dozen accelerants to help investigators determine the cause of a fire.

Lenny and his handler, Nohl J. Perrizo, have been called to an estimated 50 fires over the past 2 1/2 years. Runnestrand said his department, which serves 19 cities and unincorporated areas, is the only one in the county that has its own “accelerant detection canine.”


“There’s a lot of skepticism in the industry,” he said. “There’s still some debate, because it’s a fairly new application, about what a dog can do. But until they’ve seen them . . . people don’t understand how effective they can be.”

Lenny and Perrizo attended a four-week training school in Redwood City, where Perrizo learned how to be a handler and Lenny learned to identify accelerants.

The two have proven themselves to the department, which recently furnished Perrizo with a Jeep to drive Lenny to fire scenes.

Perrizo, 23, is an on-call firefighter, which means he is paid for each fire response. The department doesn’t have the money to hire him full time, Runnestrand said.

Perrizo said Lenny, also available for use by other fire departments, is trained to detect such flammable liquids as gasoline, diesel fuel, paint thinner, lantern fuel and charcoal starter fluid.

“More and more people are using flammable liquids in arson fires,” Runnestrand said.

Lenny’s job at a fire scene, Perrizo said, is to pinpoint an area where an accelerant is located so investigators can take a sample for lab testing.


“He doesn’t prove arson, he just proves accelerants,” Runnestrand said.

Fire investigators often rely on electronic devices to locate an accelerant, but Runnestrand said Lenny can do the job quicker and more accurately.

“The success with a dog is better,” he said. As a result of Lenny’s work, samples taken to the lab are more reliable and can help solve a case faster, he added.

Perrizo has just one hope: “That there’s more recognition for dogs who do this kind of work.”