The Forsyth County Fire Department recently recruited public safety pup Hallie to help out with fire safety training in and outside of school and with the mental health and comfort of county firefighters.
Little 4-month-old Hallie, named after firefighters’ Halligan tool, is currently in training with fire prevention training officer Erin Long to work on some basic obedience skills and different tricks that she will be able to use to teach fire safety to both kids and adults when she is closer to 1 year old.
After plenty of research on how dogs can help in public safety programs, Long said that she found the brown Australian labradoodle puppy through community members at Peach on a Leash and Davis Doodles, and Peach on a Leash has even offered to donate Hallie’s training.
“We’re really proud especially that everything is local,” Long said.
Long said that she started looking into starting the program a little more than a year ago after the department started speaking more about how difficult it was to reach older kids about fire safety. Even with younger kids, Long said that it can be difficult to get their attention. Since people relate so well to animals, no matter their age, Long and other fire officials thought that Hallie would be the perfect solution.
“When [firefighters] are in uniform and come out with gear, or they bring firetrucks out to the schools, up until about fifth-grade you can easily reach them and maintain their attention,” Division Chief Jason Shivers said. “But think back to when you were in sixth-grade. You’re starting to become almost a preteen. You’re feeling the world out, and you’re losing interest in the bright red, shiny truck that used to attract you as a child, and it’s that age where this is really going to become truly helpful. Because when we start losing that focus of listening to an adult talk, then canines, animals, dogs still maintain your attention, so it’s bridging that gap between children and adulthood.
“Because when you get into adulthood, you become sensible again and start listening to authority,” he continued, laughing.
Long looked specifically for a doodle breed instead of the fire department’s iconic dalmatian to offer more flexibility as they are hypoallergenic. Long plans to teach Hallie tricks such as stop, drop and roll so that she can later demonstrate the same concepts to kids when she’s officially done with her training.
They also plan to have Hallie put out public service announcements, such as one they already recently did with Hallie wearing a life jacket to remind those out on the lake this summer to stay safe.
Long is planning on getting the laid-back puppy’s Canine Good Citizen certificate when she is 6-8 months old, but they do not plan to bring her to schools until she is better trained at around 1.
On top of Hallie’s crucial job in safety training, Long and Shivers said that they hope to see her provide some therapy and stress relief to the firefighters.
The firefighters already love seeing Hallie while Long takes her on her daily walks around the public safety headquarters. Long said that even a moment spent with her can really brighten their entire day.
“She’s really laid back, and she does have spurts of energy every now and then, which is fun for a puppy still,” Long said. “But she’s really laid back and just kind of go with the flow. Just seeing the guys already now with her is just wonderful because they will stop whatever they’re doing and just be like, ‘aw, c’mere!’ It’s fun seeing big, burly firemen just break down and go, ‘aw c’mere and see me!’”
Shivers explained, too, that Hallie can help not just in their day-to-day, but also in stressful situations and debriefings.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing,” Shivers said. “It’s not just a military experience. It’s something that firefighters and law enforcement officers deal with regularly. We’re just really bad about talking about it. In fact, we suck at expressing it to people. The things these guys get exposed to day in and day out are things that you just can’t imagine as a civilian. So internally, she’s going to be so beneficial to us to enter her into that environment after a very severe incident.”
All around, the firefighters are excited to have Hallie with them on their team, and the department hopes she can reach out to the firefighters and to the community in more ways than one.
“She definitely gets through to people on a different level whether it’s kids, adults or firemen,” Long said.