Large animals equal large problems for responders

Everywhere in America thousands of large animals are transported through our communities daily. They are moving over our streets, roads, and highways. Whenever a transportation emergency occurs, local first responders are called. Without specific knowledge, training, and equipment, the possibility of the first responders becoming injured is very real.

Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Training is the best way to protect the lives of the first responders as well as provide the best possible care for the animals involved. Trailer accidents, animals that escape their pasture, and barn fires are common scenarios that often result in response from fire and emergency services. Additionally, horses and other livestock fall into trenches, are stuck in confined spaces, or become otherwise trapped in various ways. With a thorough understanding of the animals and the hazards they pose, common rescue techniques can be adapted with special equipment to achieve a safe and positive outcome.

Recent disasters have illustrated the value that humans place on their animals, and clearly doing nothing to help in an emergency is not an option. According to Mark Cole from USRider Equestrian Motor Plan (, a nationwide roadside assistance program for equestrians that promotes Large Animal Rescue awareness and training,

“We’ve found that emergency responders, while trained experts in human rescue and extrication, often have no training in large animal rescue. Because of this lack of training, responders are being put at great risk. Moreover, in many accidents and disasters, animals without life-threatening injuries are being injured further or even killed by use of incorrect techniques.”

First responders are accustomed to victims recognizing they are present in a helping role. However, a large animal involved in an emergency situation is often in a fight-or-flight survival mode and could easily injure or kill a first responder who’s trying to help. Human reaction time is no match for the instinctive kick of a horse. These gentle giants could simply turn or move and crush anyone who enters a vehicle with animals inside. Responders without adequate knowledge of safe, humane techniques have even been killed while trying to euthanize animals.

Safety starts with the implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). An effective incident management system provides the means for a safe, organized, and efficient rescue and allows personnel from various agencies to share a common communication language. The Incident Commander (IC) arriving on scene must perform a risk assessment. The IC must weigh the probability of injury to the rescuers. This risk versus gain equation must be evaluated and the IC must act without jeopardizing rescue personnel. If specially trained responders are available, with the required technical equipment to effect the rescue, the probability of a safe and successful rescue increases for both the responders and the animal.

Well-intentioned rescuers without adequate knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the animal may do more harm than good. For example, a lifting rope placed around the lower leg of a horse could easily maim the animal, resulting in the need for the animal to be euthanized. All too often, the neck of an animal is seen as a handle and a rope attached for pulling. How would we respond if someone threw a rope around our neck and started pulling?

Most well-equipped technical rescue teams will already have much of the required equipment needed; however, additional unique pieces of equipment will be necessary. For instance, a large “A” frame tall enough and strong enough to lift a horse could be purchased or constructed. SCBA cylinders, regulators, and hoses can be combined with PVC pipe to assemble a mud rescue kit to inject air near the feet of an animal to assist in freeing the animal. Telescoping poles to cut halters or pass tools or ropes through a trailer can be constructed to minimize risk and exposure to the rescuers. Rescue slings can be purchased or constructed to enable lifting of the animals while minimizing the danger of the animal falling during the lift. A special horse glide can be purchased to enable the animal to be secured to it–much in the manner conventional back boards are used to stabilize humans. Ropes can be attached and a team of people can drag the animal to the nearest available transport vehicle.

Specialty courses are offered at many locations throughout the country and attendance could literally save the lives of those responders who attend. Eastern Kentucky University ( has established an annual Large Animal Rescue training program that provides training to students in the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program ( This special training is provided to the students as part of their college curriculum requirements. To date, approximately 100 undergraduate students have successfully completed the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Training.

EKU’s Fire and Safety Engineering Technology Program was established in 1975 and is one of a handful of programs in the country offering undergraduate degrees in fire and safety. Areas of study include life safety; fire prevention, suppression and investigation, fire service administration; fire protection principles; industrial loss prevention; safety program management; and occupational safety and health.

To provide students the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills required to become proficient in the rescue of large animals, EKU’s Fire and Safety Engineering Technology Program at Eastern Kentucky University will host the fourth annual Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Training next spring.

Scheduled for April 18-20, 2008, the first seminar is reserved as an elective for fire sciences students at EKU. The second seminar, April 22-24, 2008, is open to the public, with emphasis on recruiting fire and EMT responders, veterinarians, and others. The training will educate fire/rescue personnel, first responders, veterinarians and horse enthusiasts about techniques and procedures to assist large animals involved in transportation accidents and other emergencies. Instruction will cover the use of sedatives and tranquilizers, chemical restraint, rescue ropes and knots, rescue from horse barn fires, mud rescue, helicopter rescue and water rescue, among other situations. The training, which consists of 30 hours of classroom instruction and hands-on training, qualifies each student to receive FSE 489 credit for the class. Due to the hands-on nature of the training, each large-animal emergency rescue seminar is limited to 30 participants. Call and reserve your space today.

A separate session on hazmat decontamination of large animals is scheduled for the morning of April 25. This free session will cover the issues related to rescuing large animals that have encountered chemical, biological or radiological contamination.

For additional information or to register for the training, contact Mr. Michael Shane LaCount at (859) 622-1009.

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