The most decorated fire service dog in the country has died.
But pioneering Echo, who carried out more than 70 missions with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service over 10 years, has left a life-saving legacy behind him.
The specialist search and rescue dog was 16.
Echo and his owner Mike Dewar, from Kearsley, Bolton , were part of a UK response team sent to the Caribbean island of Haiti in 2010 in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The lovable Labrador carried out 46 building searches over a fortnight – and collapsed through heat exhaustion at one point.
One of Echo’s last major incidents before he retired in 2013 was the gas explosion in Shaw, Oldham , which claimed the life of a toddler and destroyed five terraced houses.
Dog unit manager Mike, 50, spoke of his loss and pride over Echo’s career.
“I am just proud of the legacy that he has left,” said Mike, who first teamed up with Echo in 2004, when he was a puppy.
“He was one of the original fire service dogs in the UK and led the way really.
“He taught me as much as I taught him. Echo was a multi award-winner and was the most decorated dog in the UK fire service when he died.
“It is a credit to Manchester – and to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.”
Echo – described by Mike as a fearless hunter who continually risked his life to help others – specialised in searching collapsed buildings and rubble for victims, alerting fire fighters and responders to anything he found in dangerous and unstable situations.
He helped locate a number of bodies in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, during the disaster.
“Echo would clear areas so firefighters did not have to put themselves at risk,” said Mike.
“He took countless risks over his life.
“He suffered extreme heat exhaustion in Haiti. We were searching a building and he collapsed. I thought he’d had a heart attack and his eyes rolled back in his head.
“I thought he had died. We got him back to base where a vet put him on a drip straight away and he slept for 48 hours.
“He was just full of life and thrived on his work. He loved his job and was a pleasure to be around. There was never as much as a growl at anyone.”
Mike said Echo passed away of extreme old age on Wednesday morning.
On retirement, he went to live with Mike’s family and although out of active service, Echo still met children at events and promoted fire safety.
Last year he was awarded the animal equivalent of the OBE – The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Order of Merit.
The honour followed a Pride of Britain award, the IFAW Animal of the Year 2010, Hero Dog of the Year 2010 and Crufts’ Friends For Life award 2011.
“16 for a Labrador is a good age,” said Mike. “They only usually live until they are 12 or 13, generally speaking.
“Echo was very well looked after. Everything he wanted he got.
“He became part of the family when he retired and myself and my wife are very upset. It is a huge loss, but we have to look back at his legacy.
“He would still come in to work with me, because that’s what he knew and loved.
“I have received e-mails of sympathy from all over the world.”
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Mike, who has two other fire service dogs Ace and Eric, revealed his expertise as a fire service dog handler began after he attended a training course in America in the wake of 9/11.
Echo was his first dog.
“There was no real training back then,” he said. “He was the first dog I had – I hadn’t even owned a pet before.
“It just seemed to go on from there really. I was getting books out of the library to train him and it worked.
“In his retirement years Echo continued to engage in community activities, meeting young people from around the county and spreading the fire safety message.
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“He undertook a number of TV appearances and featured in a number of high-profile magazines with his stories of heroic determination in adverse situations.
“Echo paved the way for many of the fire service dogs now serving in the UK, a legacy he would be proud of. He even received a letter of outstanding performance from the United Nations.
“He passed away peacefully with his family around him.”
GMFRS Assistant County Fire Officer Tony Hunter said: “It is a sad time for everyone at GMFRS this week, in fact for everyone who knew Echo, as we learn of his passing.
“Echo was our very own super-dog and for his hard work and dedication, alongside Mike and other colleagues, was recognised many times over the years – including at the Pride of Britain.
“We are going to miss him greatly and want to express our thanks for all of his and Mike’s hard work over the years.”
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