news-category: Campus News

Canine ATF Agent Shows Gardner-Webb Students How He Sniffs Out Evidence

Union County Fire Marshall Kevin Rigoli and ATF Senior Investigator Darren Solomon Lead Demonstration

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Camden, a four-legged agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently demonstrated his skills in fire investigation for Gardner-Webb University students. An official ignitable liquid detection canine, he’s trained to sniff out miniscule amounts of accelerant within a large area or pile of debris. Hosted by the Department of Natural Sciences, Camden was accompanied by his partner, Union County Fire Marshal Kevin Rigoli, and ATF Senior Investigator Darren Solomon.

Professor of Chemistry Dr. Venita Totten said the demonstration introduces chemistry students to the various opportunities that are available to them. Their visit was part of the department’s Applications of Chemistry Seminar Series. Camden, officer Rigoli and agent Solomon also visited Totten’s upper-level chemistry classes to talk to students about careers in forensic science.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the group were regular visitors, and in the past, Totten’s chemistry students have helped provide test samples for Camden. The ATF uses K9s like Camden to sniff out potential arson cases. Camden’s nose can detect concentrations so low that a mass spectrometer has trouble keeping up. In describing Camden’s uniqueness, Rigoli said there are only 60 ignitable liquid dogs worldwide.

Solomon and Rigoli explained that scientists in forensic and fire research labs help them identify accelerants. In the confines of the lab, they can also recreate a fire to prove or disprove the testimony of a witness. The scientists also help Camden sharpen his detection skills by letting Rigoli know when he’s alerted to the wrong substance.

Trained to find six classes of liquids, Camden demonstrated his abilities for the students. Rigoli and Solomon arranged cans across the room. As Rigoli led Camden around the cans, he sat at the ones that contained traces of an accelerant. They rearranged the cans, and Camden still alerted to the right ones. On the scene of a fire investigation, Camden alerts to an area where he smells the ignitable liquid, and Rigoli fills a can with fire debris from that area. The sample is sent to the lab for testing.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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