The Los Angeles County firefighters formally welcomed two new, furry members to their department on Tuesday.
Milo and Echo, both 3-year-old Labrador retrievers, were donated to the department’s new K-9 support program by Thor’s Hope Foundation and the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation.
Milo has received hundreds of hours of training to help first responders de-stress, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.
Echo started out as a service dog for a Marine veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, helping him through isolation and severe night terrors, the Fire Department said.
“Since Echo was still young and he felt she had a special calling, the Marine veteran unselfishly wanted her to continue helping and healing others,” the department said in a statement.
Echo has already given support to firefighters deployed to the Bobcat Fire, one of the largest wildfires in L.A. County history.
Firefighter and paramedic Jake Windell said he brought the idea to bring in service dogs to his captain 3 1/2 years ago. Windell is now handling Echo as part of the L.A. County Fire Peer Support Team, “where she continues to bring laughter and unconditional love to our firefighters that deal with the trauma that is experienced with saving lives.”
According to Dave Gillotte, president of a local firefighters’ union and chair of the California Fire Service Task Force on Behavioral Health, one in five firefighters suffers from post-traumatic stress or cumulative stress injuries.
“We know that this is underreported because no firefighters like to report this type of injury,” Gillotte said at a news conference announcing the program on Tuesday. “For the past four years, more firefighters have committed suicide than died in the line of duty.”
Dave Richardson, chief deputy of emergency operations at the Fire Department, said stress has been “non-stop” lately with the the pandemic and recent wildfires.
“Without much time to decompress between one incident after another, it could take its toll,” Richardson said.
Capt. Scott Ross said the dogs are an additional resource to the department.
“I’ve seen our firefighters struggle. … It’s a big deal,” Ross said.
The department hopes to expand the K-9 program in the coming years.
Windell said the crews are working on training with the dogs and seeing their behavior on the field.
“If it’s up to me, I’ll have a dog at every fire station,” he said.