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[whitespace] Fire investigating team retires together

Los Gatos--Dolph, the Los Gatos-based canine federal agent who has assisted in arson investigations throughout the country, is retiring after six years of service. That's 42 in dog years, almost as long as partner Bill Hardwicke's 46-year career in local fire service.

After investigating more than 1,300 fire scenes together from Saratoga to the Connecticut coast, Hardwicke and Dolph are retiring together Jan. 4.

Hardwicke, a Los Gatos native, has worked for the Central Fire District in Los Gatos since 1970, fighting and investigating fires in eight contract cities, including Saratoga. Hardwicke and Dolph became partners in arson investigation in 1993, when Hardwicke joined the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms national response team as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshall on top of his duties as chief of fire investigations with the Central Fire District.

"Once I teamed up with Dolph, I was not only busy with all the fires here, but anytime large fires occurred in the state or the country, we knew we had a good chance of heading for that fire," Hardwicke said.

ATF paid to train Hardwicke and Dolph, and in return the pair made themselves available to other agencies for investigations.

Dolph, a black Labrador retriever, is one of about 42 dogs throughout the country trained to detect flammable and ignitable liquids, such as gasoline and kerosene, at a fire scene. Dolph is also one of the busiest dogs in the nation, according to Hardwicke.

Because Hardwicke and Dolph are one of only two ATF certified teams in the state and the only team in California certified in ignitable flammable liquids detection at both the state and national level, they are always on the go.

"Hardwicke has been well thought of in the department as an excellent investigator and when he partnered with Dolph he got that much better," said Santa Clara County Fire Department Chief Doug Sporleder. "They are in high demand for their expertise and assistance."

The two are recently back from investigating a large casino and hotel fire in Spokane, Wash., and assisted in investigating the recent Sacramento synagogue fires and the Yosemite tourist murders. Steve Carman, an ATF certified fire investigator out of Sacramento, said Hardwicke and Dolph often hit the road at 2 or 3 a.m. and show up enthusiastic and ready to work at fire scenes throughout Northern California. "Hardwicke and his agency in my opinion have been second to none; he will be sorely missed at work. He and Dolph make one heck of a team," Carman said.

Teams like Hardwicke and Dolph are rare and in high demand because of the tremendous amount of dedication needed from the handler and the sponsoring agency. Hardwicke and Dolph live and work together and train daily before Dolph is allowed to eat. Hardwicke spreads drops of flammable and ignitable liquids throughout a field about one-half acre in size, which Dolph has to find with his incredibly accurate nose. The dog is rewarded with a meal. The pair also has to be re-certified every year.

"Hardwicke and Dolph are one of the best teams in the country because Bill is very conscientious about maintaining the level of training necessary for the dog to be accurate. Daily routine is what keeps the dog on its toes, and that's the hard part that Bill has been consistent with," said Jim Flanigan, an ATF arson group supervisor based in San Francisco.

Hardwicke was due to retire two years ago, but opted to stay so that he and Dolph could retire together, and so that ownership of Dolph would be turned over from ATF to Hardwicke and his wife, Jean, who is a senior fire marshal deputy at the Central Fire District.

"The last six years with Dolph has been by far the most enjoyable part of my career," Hardwicke said. "He's incredible to be with. The only reason I stayed on the past two years is so that, when Dolph retires, he'll be my dog."

Hardwicke began his long career in 1954 working the night shift for Alma Fire Department and the Morgan Hill Fire District as a paid firefighter while a student at Los Gatos High School. In 1959, Hardwicke was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent two years on duty in Europe. After being discharged in 1961, Hardwicke returned to work for the California Department of Forestry as a captain and switched over to the arson unit in 1965. Hardwicke joined the Santa Clara County Fire Department in Los Gatos in 1970 as a captain. In 1981, he was promoted to the arson unit and was an arson investigator until 1995, when he was promoted to chief of investigations. Hardwicke is also one of 14 members on the governor's special arson task force for the state of California, which grew out of the Lexington fires in 1985 and is still in effect.

Dolph began his career in New York as a seeing-eye dog for the blind. After two years, he had a career change and became a Federal Agent with ATF and teamed up with Hardwicke. Hardwicke is looking forward to slowing down after almost a half century of fire service and six years of full-speed-ahead fire investigation with Dolph.

"I swear sometimes we're never home, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and would not have chosen any other profession," Hardwicke said.

According to Sporleder, there are no replacements yet planned for Hardwicke's or Dolph's positions. After retirement on Jan. 4, the pair will most likely be found hiking, canoeing and fishing in the Bear Valley area when they are not at home in Los Gatos.
Leigh Ann Maze

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