MARION, Ill. | A droplet of accelerant no bigger than the tip of an ink pen can't get by Gemma.
Gemma is a new employee of the Illinois state fire marshal's office, introduced to media Wednesday in front of a burned home in Marion.
Within seconds, the 16-month-old black Labrador found the first of several droplets of accelerant put down to showcase her talents.
And she has just recently graduated from canine accelerant detection school under the guidelines of Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
Already, she has helped her partner, Jeff Pride, sniff out crime. Pride has been with the state fire marshal's canine team for more than eight years and Gemma is his third partner.
His past canine partners, he said, have been instrumental in several Southern Illinois arson cases, most recently assisting in the conviction of two arsonists connected to 26 fires.
Gemma is expected to investigate an average 50 fires a year. Last year, Pride investigated 125 fires.
"As you can see, Gemma is wearing a badge and that is because Gemma is actually a certified police canine," Pride said. "She is protected under the same laws as other police officers."
Gemma's training was paid by a State Farm Insurance program available to fire and police across the United States and Canada. Since it started in 1993, the program has placed more than 300 dogs in 44 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces, State Farm representative Greg Gurney said.
"Arson is a particularly heinous crime in that it puts the lives of firefighters and the general public at risk," Gurney said. "Each year arson is the cause of tens of thousands of fires and causes millions of dollars of property damage."
The house used for Wednesday's demonstration was gutted in a fire about six weeks ago and was made available by the property owner, Marion Fire Chief Jack Reed said. It was not arson.
Reed noted last week was Fire Prevention Week.
"Anything the city of Marion can do to help the state fire marshal's office, we are more than happy to do it," Reed said.