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Meet this four-legged teacher: First Fire K-9 continues to provide education, support to firefighters, residents
Hallie Fire K9
Halligan, or Hallie for short, is the Forsyth County Fire Department’s first Fire K-9, and she has been working with them for a little over two years. Hallie works as an ambassador for the department, going to educational events and providing emotional support for firefighters in the county.

While walking around the Forsyth County Fire Department headquarters off Settingdown Road, we couldn’t go anywhere without a firefighter or employee saying, “Hey, Miss Hallie! Where you goin’?”

Halligan, or Hallie, has been an employee of the fire department for about two years, working as a Fire K-9 to educate children, teens and adults on fire safety.

She has also been providing “support for the troops” and, according to her handler Erin Long, “won’t hesitate to take over a recliner,” making firefighters and other staff members laugh and fall in love with her.

“She’s been a great asset,” Long said.

Long, senior fire prevention training officer for the department for the past four years, explained that the pup’s full name, Halligan, comes from a tool used by firefighters to force entry. The tool has a claw, or fork, on one end and a blade and tapered pick on the other, and can be used to pry, twist and strike.

Hallie wears a smaller Halligan bar around her collar which members of the fire department joke is also “fully functional.”

Hallie Fire K9
Hallie started her employment at the FCFD at nine weeks old with her handler Erin Long. She and Long have been working with hard to learn good manners and multiple tricks in the last two years. Photo courtesy Erin Long.

How it started

While Long has a background in animal control, she said she initially did not see herself working with a four-legged co-worker at the fire department.

“[My family and I] have [labradoodles] at home,” Long said. “We told ourselves that we weren’t doing another dog; we had two [and] that was plenty.”

But she found it was difficult to break through the barrier between the fire department and teens and young adults. There was a “hard niche” to breach to talk to them about fire safety, and Long began trying to come up with ice-breaker ideas.

She settled on getting a dog, but she wasn’t sure what breed to get. Should she consider the stereotypical Dalmatian with lots of black spots? Or something loyal like a golden retriever?

Long said she decided on a labradoodle, liking the breed because of its hypo-allergenic fur and easy-going attitude.

She reached out to Alex Sessa of Peach on a Leash Dog Training, a local dog trainer, who helped put her in touch with Davis Doodles, a reputable and local labradoodle breeder. Long said the owner of Davis Doodles had previously sent her son to the fire department’s summer camp, and he loved it.

“She said her son loved the camp so much she wanted to donate Hallie to us,” Long said. “And the trainer donated her time, so we’ve been really lucky with getting her and the training. And they’re all local businesses that helped out which is great.”

Hallie began her employment at 9 weeks old, working on her manners and learning neat tricks. She also resides at Long’s house full-time and gets opportunities to “cut loose” with her doggie siblings after work.

Story continues below.

Hallie Fire K9
Hallie started her employment at the FCFD at nine weeks old with her handler Erin Long. She and Long have been working with hard to learn good manners and multiple tricks in the last two years. Photo courtesy Erin Long.
Hallie Fire K9
Hallie's handler, Erin Long, said she's constantly stealing chairs and recliners around the fire department's admin building and fire stations.

Working dog

As Hallie grew older, Long was able to take her to public relations events, specifically educational events at schools and businesses.

“She goes to schools, day cares, businesses and her job is basically to help us teach [fire safety],” Long said.

Long said Hallie’s presence helps make fire safety lectures more relatable and interesting than “just listening to someone tell you what to do,” and she has been important for “visual interaction.”

Long explained that some of Hallie’s learned tricks help with educational events as Hallie can show children how to crawl low under smoke, close their doors before bed and pull fire alarms.

“We can tell [kids] they have to stay low to crawl under the smoke, and you can say that over and over again, and they can do it,” Long said. “But to see Hallie do it, it just makes it more fun and interesting for them.”

In terms of relating to older crowds, Long said Hallie works as a conversation starter.

“Even when we’re out [in public], people want to know what she does, which is another opportunity to teach about fire safety,” Long said. “If I can tell someone, ‘Hallie teaches kids to close their door before they go to bed,’ whenever we talk about it, people [think] maybe I should also be closing the door before I go to bed.”

Long said she particularly loves any events she and Hallie do at preschools, because they incorporate a puppet show.

During the show, Hallie hides behind a little stage while Long asks the kids if they “want to meet a special guest.”

“They’re usually really excited to see [Hallie] when she comes out,” Long said. “And I love to see her crawl and interact with the little kiddos.”

Hallie Fire K9
Fire Apparatus Operator Jonathan Van Phan holds a Halligan bar, a tool firefighters use for forcible entry. It is also Hallie’s namesake, and she wears a small one around her collar.

Unintentional benefits

While Long said Hallie’s main job is to help with educational events and serve as a doggie ambassador for the fire department, she explained that Hallie has provided some other unexpected benefits: emotional support for firefighters and other staff members.

Division Chief Jason Shivers said he has personally seen the calming effects that Hallie has firsthand.

“It’s amazing to watch how her presence will bring a calming effect to a really stressed group of people pretty quickly,” Shivers said. “Everything we do is high-energy and high-stress, and that stress level will build.”

Shivers said if staff members don’t release or “pour out” their stress, it’ll continue to build until it overflows. With Hallie at the office and venturing to fire stations around the county, Shivers said she helps firefighters add length to their shifts and “makes it a little bit easier for them to get through the rest of their 24 hours.”

Long agreed, saying Hallie is adored by all the firefighters. They don’t even mind when she “takes over their recliners.”

“Sometimes she’ll sit with [the firefighters] in [their recliners],” Long said. “And sometimes, [the firefighters] will chase her around the station to love on her.”

She said one firefighter has made it his mission to get Hallie to love him. But she’s constantly “ignoring him” and “bypassing him” when he reaches out for affection.

“It becomes a game to them then,” Long said. “And that can help redirect [firefighters’] minds if needed — gives them something else to focus on.”

Future work

As Hallie continues to grow, learn new tricks, and make new friends, Long said she will continue to work with the talented pup.

“She’s been to work every day,” Long said. “She comes with me everywhere.”

Unlike police K-9s, Hallie’s job is not as stressful on her body and she has more downtime and a “whole lot of loving,” so Long predicts that she will be coming to work for a while longer.

“As long as she and I both stay healthy, she should be able to keep doing her job,” Long said.

“If we can keep people from feeding her chicken biscuits all the time, we should be good,” she said. “She uses those eyes and people just give in.”