A man's best friend and partner has passed away after a short battle with cancer.
Blaze, a canine handled by arson investigator Eric DiBartolo, passed away on Wednesday, July 27. Blaze is remembered as an exceptional dog which was never wrong about a lead.
Yorktown Highway Superintendent and past Fire Chief DiBartolo and Blaze are both members of the Westchester County Arson Team Zone 4. Blaze was instrumental in several investigations, prosecutions and convictions; most notably he assisted in securing the evidence that led to the conviction of Jason Bethea in the double homicide in Peekskill in Oct. 2008.
Members of the Yorktown Fire Department expressed their grief on their website and extended their condolences to their "brother Eric" and his family for the loss of Blaze.
"Blaze was gentle, and a pleasure to be around, whether it was marching in a parade or showing his skill at various county meetings," past Fire Chief Martin McGannon wrote. "More importantly is when he made appearances in schools with the kids during fire prevention week."
DiBartolo said Blaze was 13 months old when he brought him from the Czech Republic in July 2003. Shortly after, he went into service. Although Blaze was sponsored by the Yorktown Fire Department, they both investigated at scenes whenever there was a need and had done close to 1,000 investigations over the years.
Blaze retired from his work with the arson investigation team the day DiBartolo found out Blaze had cancer.
"I have a hole in my heart that I could never replace," DiBartolo said of the passing of his dog. "He was the most loyal, incredible individual. The only thing he couldn't do was talk to me. He talked to me through his eyes."
Blaze was found to have a mass on his spleen on June 25 and was operated on the next day, but the mass ruptured and the dog had internal bleeding, DiBartolo said. By then, it was too late. It was a matter of time before he would pass away. DiBartolo said it was recommended that the dog receives chemotherapy, which would have given him another month, but he said he decided not to put him through it.
DiBartolo said he spent every minute possible with Blaze and kept him comfortable in his last days.
"He passed away in my hands," he said. "I was holding him."
Yorktown police officer Jason Swart, also a K9 handler, and McGannon are planning to put up a memorial for Blaze but the details are still being worked out.
"Out of the loyalty that he showed me over the years, I would never handle another dog," DiBartolo said, and added that he plans to have another dog as a pet sometime in the future.
Law enforcement and public safety officials exchanged emailed on Thursday reporting the death of Blaze.
"We were very fortunate to have Blaze working with us over the past several years and performing an extraordinary job on each and every investigation to which he responded," said James F. Cuffe, Deputy Fire Coordinator for the Westchester County Dept. of Emergency Services.
He continued to say that Blaze was a welcome addition to their scenes and gave credit to DiBartolo for his dedication and devotion to having his K-9 partner well prepared and eager to assist at any time.
"The friendship and bond that we all had with Blaze will not be forgotten any time soon," Cuffe wrote. "I’m sure that you’ll all agree that we are proud to have been able to call Blaze one of our Team members."
Richard Barlette, Arson Bureau Chief at the NYS Office of Fire Prevention & Control, expressed his sympathy to DiBartolo, his family and all Westchester County Public Safety Agencies who benefited from Blaze's service of fighting to control the crime of arson.
"Blaze was an exceptional canine who worked diligently for nothing more than to please his handler, searching for ignitable liquid vapor residue," Barlette wrote. "He will be missed by all and fondly remembered for his work by fire and police officials throughout the state, as if losing one of their own."