The Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department was working toward creating a K9 search and rescue team until Fire Chief David Masirovits ended the program in December.
The move was one reason volunteer President Cliff Elliott resigned from the department. It also angered dog handler Dan Berecek, who was removed from the volunteer roster shortly after he had been added.
Berecek said he became friendly with Elliott because Elliott would shop at Kellie’s Place, the Brookfield Center pet supply store owned by Berecek and Dori Lumpp.
Elliott was aware that Berecek and his dog, Josey, who died in in October 2017, had trained for search and rescue, Berecek said.
In about March, Elliot asked Berecek about Frankie, the German shepherd Berecek and Lumpp got after Josey and who is a fixture in Kellie’s Place. Berecek had started training Frankie in human tracking in January 2018, and Elliott wanted updated on how things were going, Berecek said.
Elliott started participating in the training as a target for Frankie to find.
“After one of the trainings, he (Elliott) said, listen, him and a couple of other people were talking that they wanted to start a K9 search team with the fire department,” Berecek said. “He asked me if I was interested in having Frankie be a part of that K9 team. I said, ‘Sure.’”
Berecek, of Vienna, applied to be a member of the fire department, and other volunteers and one full-time Brookfield firefighter participated in training with Frankie.
Berecek said he did not want to be associated with any of the other K9 search and rescue organizations in the area, but there were advantages to being a member of a fire department.
“One of the big things was insurance,” he said. “To be on my own, the insurance for a canine search team is around $2,600 a year. Being on the fire department, I could go on their insurance and they would just have a rider attached to it, which would only increase their cost a couple hundred dollars.”
Berecek said he offered to pay the bump-up in the department’s insurance cost, and was planning fundraising activities to offset his cost.
Another important factor was having a pool of people to train with, he said.
“If I had field support, flank, or whatever you call them, I could be concentrating on what the dog was doing and the person with me can be checking out everything else, even, watching my dog,” he said. “If you train enough, even the people with you become familiar with her body language and her actions and everything and they could pick up something that I might miss. It’s a team effort. Without that support, it’s very, very difficult to find people to go out and hide for you to train effectively. It’s almost impossible.”
In September, the volunteers voted to make Berecek a member and create the K9 team.
The fire department had been without a chief since Keith Barrett’s retirement in December 2017, and Berecek said he had interaction with only one member of the department’s paid staff. Masirovits was hired to begin work Oct. 1.
“This is the part of the story that really disturbs me the most,” Berecek said. “I was trying to set up a meeting with him (Masirovits). I couldn’t get a meeting with him. The December volunteer meeting, I just assumed that he would go to the volunteer meetings, being the chief. He didn’t go. I called to arrange a meeting, because I wanted to present my plan to him. Instead, he calls me on the phone, he refused to meet with me, he told me that this isn’t something he wants with the department.”
Masirovits said he never saw an application from Berecek – Berecek provided a copy to NEWS On the Green – and Berecek said the chief never looked over his search-and-rescue credentials, which included Frankie being certified in human tracking by the American Mantrailing and Police Work Dog Association.
Elliott said he didn’t understand Masirovits’ ending of the K9 program.
“How can you overrule something that was already voted on by us as an organization before he was hired?” Elliott said.
The chief said he told Berecek that, at this time, a K9 unit “wasn’t something our department was interested in.”
A K9 team can be a valuable part of a department, if trained for arson detection and search and rescue, but there are issues to be examined first, including insurance, transportation and use policies, Masirovits said.
The chief said he wanted to concentrate on other issues, particularly the department’s policies and procedures.
“It wasn’t something I could do right now,” Masirovits said of a K9 team.
Plus, there are dogs available through the Ohio State Fire Marshal, area police departments and private groups such as K9 SOS, which has Brookfield representation, should the need arise, he said.
Masirovits said he did not see a high priority need for a K9, but could reconsider such a team down the road, maybe a year or 18 months away.
If Masirovits reaches the point where he would like to have a K9 team, Berecek and Frankie probably won’t be available.
“The sad part about it, it’s left me in a position where I don’t think I’m moving forward with the search and rescue,” Berecek said. “The drama and the politics, I don’t want to deal with that.”
He said he invested a considerable amount of his own money in attending training events, some of which were out of state and required motel lodging, and even bought a boat to help train Frankie in human remains detection.
Berecek said he will continue with human remains training as an exercise, but not in a formal way.
“She enjoys it,” he said of Frankie. “To them, it’s a game.”