Follow Fjord - Ski Patrol Search and Rescue Dog

"Fjord is a big floppy Flat Coated Retriever, he’s the most loving dog, very adaptable, very faithful. He’s stubborn, playful and mischievous, very powerful - good all round qualities for a search and rescue dog. The fire brigade use specific dog breeders for avalanche SAR work. Fjord came from one in Troyes, North East France. It took 10 hours to get there and on the way back we got hit by a snowstorm, I thought it was a good omen! 

He passed fire brigade exams for search and rescue in the disciplines of earthquake rubble and air scenting when he was two. You are a unit, the dog and the handler, so you’ve got to pass the exams as much as the dog. When I used to do shifts at the fire station he would come to work with me. He’s always with me, he’s lying on my feet at the moment!"

"Our film is called Follow Fjord, I decided to develop the idea because each year we have a children's educational day called 'Pilopage' before the beginning of the season, paid for by the family who lost a member in an avalanche at the ski resort. They pay a bursary to train children in mountain safety, so you get the fire brigade mountain rescue unit, the gendarmerie mountain rescue unit, the ski patrollers, and the park rangers from the national park. They have various workshops, and children learn how to use avalanche transceivers, and see the dogs working. Fjord is the most loving approachable dog, children love being around him, I thought it would be fun to put that into a film.

The main messages for children are - try to be aware, know what to do before you even put your skis on in the morning. Have a good breakfast, drink water regularly when you’re skiing (for adults it’s only normal), use suncream, eye protection, and head protection. Little things that are probably not natural for a child, like explaining signs found on the slopes, the importance of speed control, and who has the right of way. If you can teach them when they’re very young, it will be easier for them to know what to do later. The whole idea is not to scare children but to help them make the right decisions by themselves. They can learn to ski, but it’s giving them the skills to understand the environment that they’re in, to enjoy their experience and to stay safe." 

 Photo: Jean Michel MORLOT

Photo: Jean Michel MORLOT

"In 2014, Fjord was in a team where we found a little girl, it was a miracle. The whole family had been taken off by an avalanche, they had walked down a road that was shut due to avalanche danger. I was supposed to be the first dog handler on the scene, but despite arriving with the helicopter we got blocked down in the valley due to the weather and had to find a way to get up. My colleague was up there already, the mum and dad had been freed and I worked with him to find the two other girls that were still under. The statistics say that normally you've only got fifteen minutes to be pulled out with a good chance of survival. We found the little girl over two hours later, she was under two meters of snow. 

The dogs gave the indication, the first dog went in and scratched, Fjord went round and started scratching. We brought in the team to probe, and at that point they found the little girl. She was fine, there was nothing wrong at all. Statistically that shouldn’t have happened. None of them had avalanche beacons because they weren’t skiing, so the only way to find them was with the dogs or by probing. They were all very lucky to be alive. They say dogs are going to become redundant because of modern technology, but even modern technology has its faults. There are things that haven’t worked due to battery failure, or a technical fault. Hopefully dogs will still be used in the years to come."

 Photo: Jean Michel MORLOT

Photo: Jean Michel MORLOT

From an interview with Caroline Elliott, Ski Patrol and Search and Rescue and avalanche dog handler, who lives and works with Fjord. Watch the Follow Fjord trailer and find out more about Fjord the Search and Rescue Dog on his Facebook page.

Photos by Eric Roustand and Jean Michel Morlot