Last week the Carstairs Fire Department had a visit from a few four-legged friends, but this opportunity was unique in several ways.

Carstairs Fire Chief, Jordan Schaffer, explained that the service dogs came as part of the Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society. The Society, which is a charitable organization was founded in 1996 and has since expanded to offer a program of Autism Service Dogs for children. 

Chief Schaffer said that the firefighters were acquainted with how the service dogs operate when they're working. 

"It was really cool to see all the rules you had to follow; we couldn't make eye contact with the dogs or pet them. We were told to treat them not as pets but as equipment," he said. "Only the handlers can acknowledge the dogs, but when things got a little more comfortable, we were able to get a couple of pets in here and there. The goal was to try to get these pups to understand that firefighters, emergency responders were safe." 

During one point of the meet-and-greet, a Carstairs firefighter donned full bunker gear, along with the SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) and had the dogs approach her.

"Ahe was able to pet the dogs because they wanted the dogs to understand that in a situation, you can come to this person or anybody in this gear; that was our goal, [to] let them know - when they see the lights and sirens, they shouldn't be spooked."

Chief Schaffer said that learning about the rigorous training the dogs go through was eye-opening.

"These dogs were unbelievable [with] how the training was working. That was quite interesting to see."

Going forward, the Chief is hoping to continue working with the society and getting their feedback on how a call for service where a specialized service dog such as the ones that visited the firehall might be utilized.

Despite fire halls and firefighters being associated with dalmatians as the default mascots of the fire service, Chief Schaffer admitted that Carstairs does not have a dalmatian at the Firehall, but instead, his family dogs - two labradors have become the unofficial mascots of the fire station.  

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