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New Las Vegas Fire therapy dog’s journey began in South Korea

The Las Vegas Fire Department on Wednesday afternoon introduced its newest member, who already has turned out to be a very good boy.

Blaze, a 5-month-old black Labrador and golden retriever mix, was introduced to Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Gov. Steve Sisolak as the department’s future therapy dog at Fire Station 1, 500 N. Casino Center Blvd. Blaze will report to work with his handler, firefighter and paramedic Tony Brown, after he has completed therapy dog training.

Blaze was donated by Retriever Rescue of Las Vegas after his mother survived a fire in South Korea, said Brown, who has worked with the department for three years. Hours after the mother dog was rescued from the wildfire, she gave birth to Blaze and five other puppies, who were rescued and transported to Las Vegas and into the hands of Retriever Rescue.

“Back in February I myself had a close call where I almost didn’t make it out of a fire,” Brown said. “We both survived, and they put us together for that reason.”

Blaze’s mom, named Hope, and his siblings now all have homes in the Las Vegas Valley, said Danielle Roth, the rescue organization’s president.

Roth said she decided to donate Blaze to the fire department after hearing about mental health issues first responders face.

“Our firefighters are four times more likely to take their own lives than die in a fire,” she told the crowd at the fire station Wednesday. “To me, that hit home.”

The dog-training organization Sit Means Sit will train Blaze, while Caring Angels Therapy Dogs helped organize his donation to the department.

Sisolak said it was appropriate for the world to be introduced to Blaze on the anniversary of 9/11 and as the second anniversary of the Oct. 1 mass shooting approaches.

“I saw firsthand after 1 October the effect that a therapy dog can have,” he said. “A therapy dog can work with the individuals, whether they’re our first responders or the family, when nobody else can seem to get through.”

Goodman also spoke about the trauma that tragedies like 9/11 and Oct. 1 can inflict on first responders, and said she was glad the city’s firefighters now have a new friend to help them cope with the difficulties of the job.

Blaze will live with Brown and report to work with him starting around January at Fire Station 43, near Smoke Ranch Road and Torrey Pines Drive. He will go to scenes as a “peer support member” to help crews called to traumatic events, said Angela Leath, the department’s crisis intervention administrator.

“Our crews are the ones you see arriving if you have a child drowning, or if there’s a shooting, or if someone has a bad car accident and they need to be cut out of their vehicle,” she said.

“The crews run these calls on a daily basis, and they see things that most of us can’t even imagine seeing,” she said.

After Blaze reports to work, the department will hopefully be able to add more therapy dogs, Leath said. The dogs have been shown to help with stress levels and mental health, which Leath said is just as important as first responders’ physical health.

“The recent research is suggesting that first responders are at the same amount of risk as combat veterans for developing PTSD,” she said, later adding that “We have to start taking care of the people that are taking care of us.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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