Third, fourth and fifth grade students at Hopkins Hill Elementary School were visited recently by RI Fire Marshal Investigator and RI State Bomb Squad Hazardous Devices Technician Bruce Quinn and his 9-year-old partner, Sam.
No, it's not a typo - Sam is an English Black Lab who has a nose for explosives - literally. He and Quinn together make up a K9 Explosives Detection team that work to find bombs and other explosive devices at crime scenes, during terrorist threats and other incidents where there may be explosives.
The pair were invited to Hopkins Hill by Library Media Specialist Esther Wolk, a longtime friend of Quinn's. She extended the invitation after reading and discussing with students the book, Dogs on Duty by Dorothy Hinshaw during Library classes. The book, published in 2012, is one of the 2014 nominees for the Rhode Island Children's Book Award, and shows readers why dogs are uniquely qualified for the job at hand, how they are trained, how they contribute to missions, and what happens when they retire.
Quinn explained to students that Sam is from Holland and was trained to obey commands given to him in Dutch, as to not be confused or distracted by commands or conversations being spoken in English. The pair demonstrated the numerous commands given to Sam, including sit, search, stay and lay down, among others, and Quinn discussed how Sam and other dogs live in "a world of odor" full of individual smells often undetectable by the average human being.
Sam showed off his tracking abilities using a hidden training aide that he found within seconds, and while doing so illustrated Quinn's ability to watch for and read various changes in his behavior while he's searching.
In addition to Sam's unique skills and training, students were also delighted when Quinn introduced them to his other explosives partner, Layla, a $100,000 robot. Equipped with four cameras that enable him to see what Layla sees, the impressive 40-pound piece of technology can move up to 6 miles per hour, look in all directions, maneuver up and down stairs, lift objects and flip itself over, just to name a few commands.
Students were eager to ask questions about Sam and Layla, but were also curious about Quinn's 100-pound explosives suit, consisting of head-to-toe Kevlar protective gear and a helmet that weighs in at a whopping 25 pounds.
"I feel a lot like a bobblehead toy when I get to wear this helmet," he told students.
Towards the end of their visit, several students asked about Sam's safety during missions, and Quinn assured them that his furry partner's well-being is always a top priority.
"We use Sam to search for things, we don't put him in danger," said Quinn, who has clearly forged an unbreakable bond with his four-legged companion and partner. "I wouldn't let anything happen to my dog, I promise. Sam loves what we do as much as I do and he doesn't even know he's working. He's just a regular dog, but he has an important job to do."