This week I will be posting several updates from the Fifth International Conference on Large Animal Rescue held this week in Adelaide, South Australia, at the Roseworthy Campus, Veterinary School (the home of Australasia's newest cutting edge Equine hospital as well).

Speaker: Jim Green, Hampshire Fire Brigade, UK Fifth International Conference on Large Animal Rescue

Jim Green has worked tirelessly for many years in the United Kingdom to bring large animal technical rescue techniques, methods and tactics to the forefront of the fire service and to involve veterinarians, humane officers and other stakeholders who are involved in the operational “business end” of performing rescues. But his discussion to the pre-conference managers and executives at the Fifth International Conference on Large Animal Rescue held this week in Adelaide, South Australia focused on the risk assessment tools that it took to change attitudes within the fire service about performing these services to the public within the U.K.

Jim said that the immediate need for firefighter safety was the lever that was understood to “lift the rock” - necessary to get the fire service involved in finding better ways to protect their personnel. They started taking a look at the dangerous practices that were being utilized on large animal rescue scenes and the traditional response in which this was viewed as a “soft” humanitarian service for animals and their owners. For many years the fire service had “gotten away with it” by relying on members from rural agricultural backgrounds, whose livestock experience helped. Demographics have changed significantly, and they realized botched rescues were injuring or killing some of the “rescued” animals. By 2000, they were realizing that they had no formal training or knowledge about the challenging skill sets that it required to handle animals in stressful situations, meanwhile dealing with dangerous on scene challenges and frantic owners.

A survey revealed a lack of understanding by fire/rescue personnel even as to the basic hazards associated with live large animals, especially of the dynamic (rapidly changing) risk that they represented (Example: their tendency to struggle, then lay there apparently quietly, then struggle again with no warning.) This earned large animals the moniker of being similar to Hazardous Materials in definition, and unpredictable hazmat at that!

Interestingly, it was noted that large animal rescues were being attempted at a far higher rate of calls than hazmat in most jurisdictions, but that training was not commensurate with the number of responses. Meanwhile, Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act directs the Duty of Care for animals and defines the 5 Freedoms that an animal must be allowed. In particular, the implication that responders must act, or would be responsible for failure to act (paraphrasing) “…to protect from pain, suffering, injury…” was deemed important. Additionally, other laws including the definition of a large animal as “salvagable property” surrounded whether or not a fire service was expected to respond to this incident type.

What were some of the biggest potential liabilities that were being reported from early incident scenes that were included in their assessment of corporate risk?

  • Frantic and unsafe attempts by owners and bystanders on scene to assist animals.
  • Intimidated emergency responders when handing large animals.
  • Lack of protective equipment worn by veterinarians (helmet, gloves, reflective jacket on roadways, etc.)
  • Lack of Incident Command Training to owners and veterinarians responding to scenes.
  • Tendency of civilians not to respond to commands on scene.
  • Documented poor and dangerous practices committed to photographs, video and witnessed in person (i.e., lifting animal by the neck, pulling out by the head, etc.)
  • Lack of documentation of Best Practices on scenes ranging from road crashes to entrapment in mud.
  • Lack of understanding by owners if the assistance was needed for a welfare assist (downed animal, older animal) or if it was truly an emergency rescue. Subsequently, Hampshire Fire/Rescue has developed a Large Animal Rescue (LAR) training program for responders of all types and veterinarians. Their program is based on building block levels of training at the Casualty Awareness, Casualty Care, Specialist and Tactical Planning, and Veterinary Care levels for responders.

As of this writing, 43 out of 50 Fire Rescue Brigades across the U.K. have had training under this LAR program. They have collaborated with numerous veterinary groups across Britain to increase the effectiveness of the program, and are educating horse owners as well. In the future, it is hoped that MOODLE will allow outreach of their training to even more responders. The UK is working on National Occupational Standards and Qualifications that will further outline the training and education of responders required to promote safety on large animal rescue scenes. This is the very first country in the world to step up to the plate and make this happen, and I very much look forward to seeing what comes out of their continued efforts.