LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The status of a woman who has been doing search and rescue work in the wake of the deadly storms is being questioned. The K-9 handler has come under fire after a WAVE 3 Troubleshooter investigation uncovered accusations she misrepresented herself in the tornado's aftermath to gain access to disaster areas. Troubleshooter Eric Flack has been digging to find out why the dog trainer would do this.
The search and rescue work is generating a lot of good will on Facebook for Kea Grace, and her business Gimme Grace Dog Training in Louisville. The problem is the trainer isn't certified as required by law. And making some questionable claims, in the process.
Looking for signs of life after a storm that claimed so many, search and rescue crews scoured towns leveled by the tornadoes.
For Kea Grace and Gimme Grace Dog training in Louisville their mission made for good public relations. Facebook pictures of her dog Karma in disaster zones from Southern Indiana to Eastern Kentucky were cheered in dozens of Facebook comments.
Kea's assistant trainer, Alex Albin, posted on the "Please Don't Pet Me" Facebook page: one of our teams, in 10 hours, found 37 people. Albin went on to infer nine of those people were dead. But Shawn Herron, Jefferson County's Search and Rescue coordinator at Metro Safe has never heard of Kea Grace.
"I had no knowledge of the individual or the organization before this weekend," Herron said.
We discovered Kea and Karma aren't even certified in urban search and rescue with the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, required by law for anyone doing search and rescue. Charlie O'Neal with Emergency Management told Troubleshooter Eric Flack they don't have any record Kea and Karma have any search and rescue training at all.
And Herron said, that matters.
"Because if you have unqualified folks there they become victims," Herron said. "They also send responders on the proverbial wild goose chase, and can put those responders at risk."
In an email, Kea Grace said she has training from the American Rescue Dog Association and the National Association for Search and Rescue.
"I've never portrayed myself or Karma as more than what we are: volunteers who freely offer help to those who need it in times of crisis," Grace wrote.
But on Facebook, Kea said she was working with the Department of Homeland Security and claimed her dog Karma does USAR, the industry term for FEMA's highly specialized search dog teams. Kea also posted that FEMA requested that she partner with them. The commander of the FEMA unit on site said Kea and Karma were asked to stay because the commander assumed she had proper training after showing up at the scene on her own.
Troubleshooter Eric Flack went to Gimme Grace Dog Training to get some answers from Kea Grace. Instead, we found her assistant, Alex Albin. The one who made that claim their search dogs found 37 people.
Albin now said she was talking about someone else.
"No that was a different search and rescue team," she said.
But Shawn Herron of Jefferson County's Search and Rescue said their K-9's didn't make any finds. And said Kea Grace is tearing away at the integrity of search and rescue dogs everywhere.
"If the handler can't be honest about the dog then I can't trust the handler," Herron said.
In her email, Grace wrote "I do everything I do on a purely volunteer basis and receive no compensation from the government, individuals involved or anyone else. My biggest concern is for the people who have essentially lost everything."
Colonel Sean Canto, assistant chief with Harrods Creek Fire Department, who Kea and Karma were teamed for a few hours, said the dog and handler did perform in an manner expected of a search dog.
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