Meet top dog on the frontline

Dexter, the East Midlands Fire investigation dog, is a Twitter star with thousands of followers and a leading role in a promotional video.

Dexter at work investigating a fire. ANL-181217-135541001

But when his harness goes on, the four-year-old cocker spaniel knows there is an important job to do before he can take some time out again with his favourite tennis ball.

Handler Dave Cross, like all of the men and women in our hard-working frontline services, hopes that the Christmas holidays will be quiet - and for Dexter that will no doubt mean a few well-earned snoozes hanging off the edge of the settee.

It’s been a busy year for the devoted team, with around 200 call outs to sniff out the cause of fires in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

The day's work isn't done until all of Dexter's boots have been washed. ANL-181217-135500001

I caught up with Dave at Lincolnshire Police and Fire and Rescue HQ in Nettleham - where receptionists were already asking if they could say hello to Dexter.

When I arrived there was a space in the car park at the side of the smart red Fire and Rescue Dog van and I, too, was smitten from the moment Dexter raised his paw to greet me - even before he knew there were treats in my bag.

“It’s like this everywhere we go,” said Dave. “Everyone wants to meet him - but then, he is very cute.”

Dexter was just 16 weeks old when he was put in the care of Dave. “He’s the first one I’ve had as a puppy and he was ‘trickle’ trained at the side of another fire dog, a brown and white cocker spaniel called Freckle,” said Dave.

Dexter's fire boots pegged out on the line at home. ANL-181217-135442001

“Normally they go on a course at two years old and then they are straight in to work. With Dexter, after Freckle had finished investigating a job, we sent him in afterwards for a ‘play’.”

However, Dave said that at eight months he wasn’t sure Dexter had what it took to be a fire dog.

“He just didn’t seem interested - then one day it just seemed to click,” said Dave.

“We were never sure how old Freckle was - one of his biggest jobs was the murder at Station Yard in Burgh-le-Marsh, where a woman locked her husband in a cupboard in a workshop and set fire to it.

Naughty or nice - you decide! ANL-181219-065623001

“Then one day Freckle just didn’t want to do it any more and Dexter had to step up at just 13 months. He’s been working ever since.”

Having the run of Dave’s home can mean chaos for his wife Linda, who regularly has the job of pegging out 16 pairs of dog fire boots on the washing line.

“Dexter sleeps in a crate in our home for security - he’s so friendly he’d go off with anyone,” said Dave. “We learned our lesson trying to keep a previous fire dog from going upstairs because when we had to search a house he wouldn’t go there. Dexter has the run of the whole house - and that can mean he’ll get on the table if we are not watching him - he loves food.”

His love of food almost cost Dexter his life last year when he was sent to investigate a fire at the Yorkshire Country Meat abattoir in Skegness.

Dexter drying off after a shower at Skegness Fire ANL-181217-135512001

“When there is meat about and there’s a fire that means cooked meat. Fat must have got on some rat poison in the abattoir.

“I saw Dexter eating something and when I realised what it was we blue-lighted him to the on-call vet in Spilsby. If I hadn’t seen him do it we would definitely have lost him.”

Other major fires in Lincolnshire Dexter has been called into investigate include the one at Kenwick Park Leisure Centre in Louth and fire deaths in a caravan at Sleaford and a bungalow in Mablethorpe.

“The one place we couldn’t investigate though would be a tennis ball factory,” said Dave.

“It’s his favourite toy and he’d short circuit any job to bring me a tennis ball.”

It will be back to work for Dexter after the holidays and he will be back on the frontline for another three-and-a half years until Dave retires.

Job done - Dexter investigates a car fire. ANL-181219-065712001

“Although Dexter will only be eight he’ll be too old to re-team and so he’ll retire with me.

“I’ve had other good dogs but I’ll be keeping this one - there’s something about him that’s really special.

“I couldn’t give him up - this one has really got to me.”

It's been a busy year - time for a snooze. ANL-181219-065742001
Time to go - Dexter tests out the driving seat of his van. ANL-181217-135146001