Dogs are man’s best friend, but 14-month-old black labrador retriever Duke gets to be a fireman’s best friend. MFD driver Kody Songs is working to train Duke to be a nationally certified search and rescue dog.
“He’s pretty rambunctious,” Songs said. “He’s starting to learn his job very, very well. He’s a little bit younger, but he’s shaping into a really good search dog.”
Songs got his start in firefighting with an associate’s degree in fire science from Hutchinson Community College before returning to Manhattan.
“The Manhattan Fire Department has a really good reputation across the state,” Songs said.
Two years ago, Songs took a search specialist class to join the state’s search and rescue task force that is deployed in the event of natural and man-made disasters. That class was also a prerequisite for the canine handler course.
Songs then worked with Ground Zero Emergency Training Center, based in Oklahoma, to become a canine handler. Songs said the training was long, beginning at 7 a.m. and lasting until 5 p.m. Over the course of the two-week training course, Songs worked with nearly 20 dogs before bonding with Duke.
“I started to pair well with Duke so he was kind of assigned to me just because the way our personalities matched up and the way we work together,” Songs said.
Duke spends all of his time with Kody, living with him at his home when off duty. They have a regular training regimen with daily exercises to follow.
Currently, Songs is training with Duke for a test in December to become eligible for deployment anywhere in the state with the task force’s canine unit. In April, the pair will take another test for deployment anywhere in the country.