MOORE, Okla. – Friday marked the traditional ‘passing of the leash’ for several newly trained search and rescue K9s in Oklahoma, but it held special meaning for one town.
The ceremony is typically held at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, but this time it was moved to Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.
“To everybody else, he or she is a work dog but to the handler, it’s a family member,” said Maj. Andrew McCann, with the Oklahoma City Fire Department and the Western Division of Oklahoma Task Force One. “It’s part of our family.”
In a special place, the Moore Fire Department received a new family member.
Plaza Towers Elementary School was where seven children lost their lives after the school was hit by a tornado on May 20, 2013.
In total, 24 people were killed that day.
The town is no stranger to disaster and heartache.
“The community of Moore has been through so much in the last 20 plus years when we talk about May 3rd, when we talk about May 20th and even the smaller tornadoes that happened in the middle of that,” McCann said.
Now if disaster strikes again, the life-saving team on the Moore Fire Department has “Storm,” a 3-year-old rescue dog who is trained to rescue others.
“And that was just by coincidence that he matched with Tyler here in Moore, Oklahoma,” Becky Switzer said.
On Friday, The Ground Zero K9 Emergency Training Center, founded by Barry and Becky Switzer handed over the leash to Tyler Barry.
A Moore firefighter, Barry has dedicated his life to serving others. He first realized his love of working with dogs while in the military.
“They’re almost just a direct extension of yourself with the abilities that they’re able to bring to the table,” said Barry.
The two have been training together for months. Barry says Storm is eager to please, and bit high-energy.
“I’m informed I need to start running with him a little bit more so we’ll see how that goes,” said Barry.
After disaster strikes, next comes the heart-wrenching but essential task of search and recovery.
On May 3, 1999, it took crews 10 days without K9s. On May 20, 2013 the same process took only about 12 hours thanks to the help of K9s.
“They can move and clear areas of ground so much faster than the humans can,” McCann said.
These dogs are cutting time when every second counts.
“We hope that we’re never going to have to use it but we’re glad that we’re going to have the ability to use it if we need it,” said Barry.
Storm will be the eighth K9 in the Western Division of Oklahoma’s Task Force One.