They’re the first responders we often don’t hear about, but canines often risk their lives when disaster strikes. On December 1, more than two dozen teams made up of dogs and their handlers from around the country were put to the test.

The training course near the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island requires that the dogs find people posing as victims trapped in the rubble.

FEMA, police, and fire departments started the canine certification tests after a major earthquake in California proved these dogs play a key role in any rescue team.

NYPD’s Anthony Barreto says his partner Bruno helped him after a building collapse in Brooklyn and in other emergencies.

“We are off the pile and we let him do all the work then we safely follow behind him, if he barks at anybody,” Berrto said.

The debris is collected from construction sites across the city, brought here and staged to look as close to a disaster scene as possible.

“This site is a very realistic site,” said FEMA Chief Evaluator Theresa MacPherson. “It’s a very good testing site. It really tests what we want to see in the dog. We want to see that they’re agile, that they have good nerve strength, and that they have the drive to get out there and push through.”

The dogs don’t just stop at search and rescue. Many of these canines also help narcotics and other law-enforcement divisions, proving their invaluable presence and keeping people safe.