FIND OUT FRIDAY – With Rick Dunton and Lady Katherine

Good morning, friends! I am so very excited to share today’s FIND OUT FRIDAY with you! Rick Dunton is the newest (human) member of the Charlotte Fire Department’s public education team and has a fantastic new responsibility. He’s got a lot of exciting things going on! I know you’re going to be just as fascinated as I am!

Here he is… my friend, Rick Dunton!

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  • Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

I’m a twelve year old trapped in a thirty-three year olds body. I’m a transplant from New Hampshire, a snow refugee. I’ve been a father for a year now, but I still claim “new dad” status, because everything changes so fast right now that there’s always something new. We’re very much in uncharted territory.

When I’m not at home, I’m journeying through my fire service career as a Fire & Life Safety Educator for the Charlotte Fire Department.

  • How did you get into the fire service?

Like a lot of high school students, just trying to figure themselves out, it felt like I had the world demanding that I decide who I was going to be at sixteen years old. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid! But I’ve been blessed with an abundance of heroes and mentors in my life. One of them was my grandfather, a career firefighter and by all accounts an amazing ladder man.

So I followed in his steps. I was privileged to intern with the Rochester Fire Department in NH. That turned into a call/volunteer position, and eventually the relationships I was able to build there helped me earn a full time career spot.

  • How long have you been doing community risk reduction/safety education?

I worked as a firefighter in Rochester from 2008-2018. We did company level inspections and school visits pretty regularly. That was where I got my feet wet.

I had just finished my probationary year when a good friend of mine passed away in a fire. That was also when the fire service saved my life. If I had been in any other field, I’m not sure how I could have survived that kind of grief. I got a front row seat to what happens when all our best efforts are not successful, but that experience helped me relate to the folks we are here to serve. And so I very purposefully set out to be an investigator.

The educator aspect was a little less intentional…I remember about halfway through my time in Rochester we visited a school and the principal actually had notes of what she wanted us to talk about. It blew my mind because they were good notes, and it took our simple “truck n talk” to another level. The kids got it, it was good information and they were interested in what we had to say beyond looking at the BRT. That stuck with me. No one ever got the “drive through” act from me again after that.

Fast forward a few years an I’m working as an assistant fire marshal in North Carolina. I’ve got my own area, I’m getting to do fire investigations, I don’t even own a snow shovel, and I’m having the time of my life!

Then our educator quit. So once again I said “Yes” to the fire service, and it took me on another journey. That experience set me up for an offer I couldn’t refuse at the Charlotte Fire Department.

  • What is your favorite part of working in community risk reduction/safety education?

One of the most powerful things I ever heard related to what we do, was early in my career when a Fire Marshal stood up in an Inspector I class and declared to a room of salty firefighters that “We will save more people in fire prevention than we ever will in suppression!” Man, I thought he was crazy. Those were fighting words. Even if he was right, it’s hard to count the fires that never happen…But once again the fire service gave me a gift.

Myself and another AFM taught a fire extinguisher class at an assisting living facility of 60+ residents. Four days later that facility had a fire, and one of our students put that fire out with an extinguisher. Let me tell you that -that- is a feeling everyone working in this field deserves to have!

I’ve had plenty of personal satisfaction from doing a good job with an investigation, or helping folks in suppression, but I’ve never felt so good as I did when the education I helped provide armed someone with the knowledge to save lives.

So that’s my favorite part of the job, being able to teach people how to protect themselves and the people around them.

  • You’ve recently gotten a helper. Would you like to tell us a little about her?
Meet Charlotte Fire Department’s newest education member; Lady Katherine

“Helper” is putting it lightly. She’s the rocket fuel for our messaging.

Yes, I was recently partnered with a K9 named Lady Katherine. We just call her “Cat” for short. Cat the dog, or Catdog, has become quite a hit here at Charlotte Fire.

  • What types of engagement and education will you be able to do with Lady Katherine?

I told you I was blessed with mentors. One great mentor on being a K9 handler with education was Joe Harasti, otherwise known as “Cinder’s Handler” at Holly Springs Fire Department.

Joe gave me some great advise about how to use a dog in what we do. Think about what you know about kids…or anyone else for that matter. If I walk in and start talking to them about fire safety, are they paying attention to me, or are they looking at the dog? I’m cute in a “Bless” sorta way, but I’ll never be “Cat Cute.”

But if I train Cat to do the things we want our students to know, things like feeling a door for heat, crawling low under smoke, and going to a meeting place, or the ever popular stop, drop, and roll, they’ll remember that. A child that sees a dog demonstrate those skills will remember that their whole life. That’s what we aim to do with her in education.

We will also use Cat to help us open up conversations with people at our community events. We spent a lot of time in the community looking to talk to folks. A ridiculously cute and well trained dog helps bring people to us who might have otherwise kept walking. People love dogs, we love dogs! This is a great commonality to start a dialogue on.

  • What else will Lady Katherine be trained to do?

Cat and I are also training to become a certified therapy team. Cat is already so well equipped to help calm people down. She’s able to decrease stress so casually, so effortlessly, in the workplace, and we want to use her in the fire department to benefit the emotional wellness of all our members.

We see this skill set being able to extend into our Juvenile Firesetter Intervention classes as well, where we can expect Cat to help lower barriers to communication, and help our students to be more receptive to safety education.

  • How is your family adjusting to life with Lady Katherine (Lady Cat)?

So my baby girl’s first word was “Mama” as it should be. I was hopeful to catch the number two spot. It was baby’s first birthday when she decided to drop her second word on us, over and over, and over… “Cat!”

She lights up like Christmas morning -every- time she sees Cat. She brings my daughter joy, which I couldn’t be happier about, even if I’m playing for third place now.

And my wife is in love as well. She works as a midwife, which has no shortage of beautiful, magical moments, but also some pretty sad ones too. Last week after a particularly rough shift I watched Cat single her out and just be as sweet as could be to her.

That’s when I knew. Cat is a brilliant dog and she’s going to do great as an educator, but she has a gift for touching hearts that is second to none. And my partner has quickly become part of the family, and is so sweet to my girls. How can I ask for more?

  • What’s one interesting fact that very few people know about you?

I’m not really sure. I’m kind of an open book. I’ve trained in Krav Maga, and MMA for the better part of a decade, which I think is pretty cool, but I guess I don’t advertise. I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings nerd, which I also don’t advertise, but I think might be more obvious than the Krav thing.

  • What’s one interesting fact about Lady Cat?

What’s not interesting about Cat? I mean dogs are awesome, but she’s maybe on another level. Oh! Ok here’s something. She taught herself to tuck her tail in when she sits. Think about the sheer number of people we’re going to be around in the Charlotte area, and how much opportunity she would have for people to step on her poor little tail! I didn’t teach her that, but when she sits, she draws her tail in to protect herself. Is that Dog Maga?

  • If a youngster wanted to join the fire service, or in this case train a therapy dog, what are a few things you think they should know?

Yet another of the many amazing mentors I had along my path is -famous- for this quote. Tom Kenney of the Hyannis Fire Department, used to say “It’s okay to love the job.” And those are words to live by. The fire service has blessed me with the best relationships of my life, the kindest, most passionate, most genuine people you could ever imagine.

So that’s what I would say to anyone looking at the fire service as they try to find their place like I did a good while back. Love the job. It won’t always be easy, but if you love this job, I promise you, it’ll love you right back.

As for training a therapy dog. There are so many good ways to train a dog, but consistency is key. Network! Find yourself people who know what they are doing and will answer the phone for you, and be consistent.

Cat is an amazing dog, but she is still a five month old puppy, she loses her brain a couple times a day, and when you’re the handler, it’s your job to help them find it again!

  • This is an exciting opportunity for you, Lady Cat, and Charlotte Fire Department! How can community members keep up with you and Lady Cat and all of your adventures together?

Cat is quickly becoming a social media star. Right now she’s on Facebook and Instagram, but she seems pretty interested in TikTok, so I expect that will be coming soon.

For now, follow Cat, our mascot Blaze, and future CFD K9’s on Facebook at “Dogs of the Charlotte Fire Department ”

And on Instagram at Dogsofthecfd

Help us spread her story by sharing Cat’s story with your friends!

The last thing we’d really like folks to know is that Cat’s program at CFD is a labor of love that is funded through donations. Whether part of a business or as individuals, we welcome donations to the CFD K9 Program through our fund set up at https://www.firepreventionfoundationofcharlotte.com. Click “Donate” on the top right of the page, and mark your donation for the “CFD K9 Program”.

For more information on Cat, visit charlottefire.org and select “Community Engagement K9” under the “Keeping you safe” tab.

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Friends, is Lady Cat no the cutest therapy/education dog you’ve ever seen? I’ve not had the chance to meet her in person, but I love her already!

Please follow Lady Cat on social media and share her story. I truly believe that she is going to work wonders for Charlotte Fire Department, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community… and beyond!

Do you know someone cool like Rick (or his trusty side kick)? If so, please let me know. I would love to invite them to be a future FIND OUT FRIDAY guest.

Have a great weekend! Stay safe! Stay hydrated! Wash your hands! Wear your masks if you can’t social distance! And… always be kind!

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