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K-9 Kilo saved in the line of duty thanks to 7-year-old with big heart

Donated heat sensor alerts K-9 handler to rising temperature in police car

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. – The outcome could have been devastating for a St. Augustine Beach Police K-9 and his handler. But, luckily crisis was averted -- thanks to a 7-year-old girl making sure police dogs are safe in the line of duty.

Last month, K-9 Kilo and his handler Cpl. Bruce Cline where on duty at VyStar in St. Augustine Beach. Kilo was taking a rest inside their police vehicle in the parking lot of the bank as Bruce worked his security detail inside.

The pair have been partners -- and inseparable -- for two years, vowing to serve and protect their community and each other.

"I was giving (Kilo) a break inside the vehicle, where he gets to kind of unwind and relax. I have a sensor that gives me feedback to my phone," Bruce explained to News4Jax anchor Joy Purdy. "I monitor that temperature whenever (Kilo's) in the vehicle. I can see that that temperature was going up."

What Bruce didn't know as he was looking at his phone, the air conditioner blowing cool air to Kilo malfunctioned, so the temperature inside the police vehicle was climbing.

He immediately went to Kilo, realized the AC wasn't working properly and brought his K9 partner back inside the bank with him for the rest of the day.

"I had the AC on and it malfunctioned. This is actually how the canines die in these cars, without these heat alarms," Bruce told Joy.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 17 K-9s have died nationwide since 2016 as a result of heat exhaustion inside their handlers vehicles.

With the heat alarm and the app that goes with it, not only can Bruce monitor the temperature inside his police vehicle whenever he wants to check it, the app will also alert him when the vehicle's inside temperature exceeds the set limit.  

He receives text alerts and automated phone calls, while other components of the total alarm system automatically turn on a cooling fan set up in one of the rear windows, and sets off the vehicle's horn and flashing lights.

"An alert is also sent to other people (designated) on my contact list," Bruce said.

That's the backup in case he's in a location where phone service is limited or if he were to miss an app alert.

"There's a huge misconception that (K-9 officers) are being cruel by leaving out dogs in there," Bruce told Joy while shaking his head. "(Kilo) is always paying attention to movement and smells, so sometimes that's the only break that he gets, is to be in there."

"I'm fortunate to be able to have one of these heat alarms installed in my vehicle," he added.

Bruce has the heat sensor because of 7-year-old Emma Johnson and her mom Debbie. The mother-daughter duo started the nonprofit K9s United to buy specific, life-saving supplies and tools that police K-9 units across the country need. 

WATCH: How K9s United got started

It was from money raised during K9s United's annual charity run that allowed Emma and Debbie to purchase and donate the heat sensor that saved Kilo's life.

"So you're back at home with Kilo, you and Kilo hanging out, and you're thinking what just happened?" Joy asked Bruce.

"The next day, afterwards, I kinda realized, I'm so blessed. I'm extremely fortunate," he answered. "I would have been devastated. He's my buddy. This is my dream job."

"Being a cop is one thing, but having a bond that we have and being able to work hand-in-hand with, it’s an absolute dream," Bruce added.

Bruce says right after the donated heat sensor saved the day, he let everyone know.

"When I got the text, my heart sank at first, and then it was, like, 'Oh, but (Kilo's) okay!" said Debbie.

Joy asked Emma if she understands exactly how she helped protect Kilo. The soft-spoken girl smiled and nodded her head, "Yes."

Joy then asked how it makes her feel, and she summed it up perfectly in one word:

"Happy!" Emma exclaimed.

"I remember the text I got from Corporal Cline like it was yesterday," St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Robert Hardwick said to Joy. "This is his life, this is his family member -- and one of ours -- so we had an actual save, based on adding these extra features."

Debbie says with proof a car heat alarm can save a K9's life, she and Emma have a new focus for their mission -- raising money to specifically buy heat alarms for law enforcement canines locally and nationwide. You can donate specifically to the campaign to help equip K9 units with heat alarms on the charity's website at K9sUnited.org.

Kilo is a community superstar

K-9 Kilo joined the St. Augustine Beach Police Department two years ago as an expert at detecting drugs and finding missing people. 

The 4-year-old German Shepherd is not only an important asset on the force, he's actually kind of a superstar with members of the community.

Posts on Facebook about the four-legged officer have reached more than 21,000 people. One particular post involving Kilo and boxes of Girl Scout Cookies received more than 650 likes (and that number keeps going up).

"He's become a community partner," Chief Hardwick told Joy. "He's become truly a focal point of our agency."