New York Task Force 2 Urban/Technical Search & Rescue

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K9 Team

Meet Marsi, Lani, Kura, and Bonnie. Although they all have very human names, all four are canines with the New York State Task Force 2 Search & Rescue Team. These canines are trained in “live victim search” and play a very important role in the search & rescue environment. They have been deployed on various emergency incidents such as floods, house explosions and locating missing persons. The canines are matched to their  handlers who also are trained in canine search & rescue. These 4 “teams” of humans and canines are responsible for searching structures in the urban search & rescue environment, rubble piles from collapses, and urban and rural missing person searches in all types of terrain and weather.

The canines live with their handlers 24/7 and as such, retire with them. Not only are they working dogs, they are family to the handlers. They go on vacations, family outings and just about everywhere the handler goes. The handler is responsible for the canines’ health and overall wellness, whether at home or on a deployment. Monitoring the canine in the field for rest, injuries, stress and fatigue is very important. Something like a small cut on the paw can turn into a large problem if not taken care of properly.

New York Task Force 2 Attends Iron Dog Competition

Watch the video about NYTF2 K-9's at the Iron Dog Competition.

Each year the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation hosts the Iron Dog Competition, an intensive 12 hour training session where canine search and rescue teams from across the United States come to practice and enhance their skills. Four handlers and their rescue dogs from US&R New York Task Force 2 made the trip from New York to Camarillo, California for the 2008 Iron Dog Competition, where they were able to participate in training scenarios that they would normally not have access to.

The twelve hour event began at 5 a.m. and allowed search dog teams to practice on various simulated rescue scenarios, including collapsed building searches, industrial facility disasters, and helicopter operations. Teams were also given the opportunity to work with the United States Coast Guard and the Navy to search a Naval Destroyer. For New York Task Force 2, this was very special. John Stewart, the handler of Lani, says, "We don't get too many opportunities to train this many sites, this hard all day long because of time constraints and lack of training sites. We have a tough time getting training sites out in New York, so something like this is above and beyond what we usually get an opportunity to do."

In addition to the variety of training environments that the Iron Dog Competition gives to the teams, because the dogs are being exposed to new people, other canine search teams, and different victims than they are used to training with, they are able to further develop their skills. Tony Santulli, the New York Task Force 2 Search Team Manager says, "The more things we can expose them to, because we never know where or what kind of disaster is going to happen, the better the chance there is that they're going to work more effectively when there is a disaster."

The organizer of this yearly event, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (NDSDF), has been training search dog teams since 1995, when its founder Wilma Melville and her search dog returned from the Oklahoma City Bombing. Melville saw that there was a dire need for well-trained canine search and rescue teams, and started the foundation. Since then, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation has trained dogs for fire departments and emergency agencies throughout the United States with a high success rate. 85% of its teams have received FEMA Advanced Certification.

The Foundation rescues high energy dogs that show the potential for being good search dog candidates from shelters and trains them for 6 months, after which they are paired with fire department handlers, all at no cost to the fire department. The New York Task Force 2 canine teams received their dogs approximately two years ago, with their first deployment to flooded areas of New York coming only 5 days after receiving FEMA Advanced Certification.

Even after the search teams receive their certification, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation continues to help them in their training efforts. In becoming handlers, the firefighters on these teams assume a large personal responsibility, and the dogs become a part of their daily work and personal lives. According to New York Task Force 2 Handler Jason Geary, his dog Marsi is at his side constantly, even going with him on family vacations. Recognizing this, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation provides these handlers with their utmost support. Of them, NDSDF Community Relations Manager Celeste Matesevac says, "They are volunteers. They get no salary from us. They get no money from us. But they are volunteers, and on top of their job, and their families, and their other dogs, and their kids and their work as firefighters, they are with their dogs 24/7. It's pretty incredible."

The National Search Dog Foundation is a non-profit organization and relies primarily on donations to fund training. For more information about their mission, visit

Author: Barbara Brooks for



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Bonnie & Bill Simmes

Kura & Greg Gould 

Marsi & Jason Geary 

Lani & John Stewart 

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