TRIBUTES have been paid to a search and rescue dog that has passed away after an eight year career with Essex Fire Service.

Kirby, who died aged 12 earlier this month, was called into action following a gas explosion in Wellesley Road, Clacton, just three days after finishing his specialist training in April 2012.

Less than a minute after beginning his search, the English springer spaniel helped Clacton fire crews to find a man who had been trapped for several hours.

An 80-year-old woman, Andree Maffey. who lived in the ground floor flat of the house, was seriously injured in the explosion and sadly died later in hospital.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service said the incident set the tone for what was a "truly remarkable tenure" as its search and rescue dog.

His service saw him airlifted in helicopters, abseil down buildings and support the police, ambulance service and the military.

Kirby, who officially retired early last year, was sadly put to sleep on September 11 following a battle with cancer.

Station manager Scott Meekings, from the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, said: “Kirby was a key player nationally in the canine world for Urban Search and Rescue and will be greatly missed, both locally and nationally.

“The modern format of USAR was borne out of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so September 11 was a fitting date for Kirby to pass away on.”

Other incidents Kirby attended included the collapse of Didcot Power Station in Oxfordshire in 2016.

Kirby featured at hundreds of open days across Essex alongside handler Graham Currie, meeting thousands of residents and helping to share safety messages.

He also helped to raise cash for charities, including more than £10,000 for Stanley’s Heroes, a charity launched in aid of Clacton firefighter Rob Newman’s son Stanley as he battled a congenital muscular dystrophy.

Kirby even featured on national TV on several occasions, including on the BBC’s Mega Cities documentary with Andrew Marr and in 2017 on ITV’s Inside London Fire Brigade.

Kirby was given the Outstanding Award for Community Safety at the brigade's Celebrating our People Awards, alongside Graham and fellow Search and Rescue dog Jarvis.