Living Safely in Sonoma – Kenwood Press News

By Julie Atwood

Most of our Living Safe articles are about disaster preparedness. But this month, we take a look at the individual emergencies that happen every day.

We all know firefighters are great at getting cats out of trees and rescuing pets from burning buildings. But did you know that many are trained to rescue equines, cows and other large animals?

In California, this skill is called Animal Technical Rescue (ATR) by the state fire marshal. In other parts of the country, and around the world, it is also called “Large Animal Emergency Technical Rescue”. We will use the acronym ATR in this column.

ATR uses many of the same techniques and much of the same equipment as ‘heavy rescue’ units, but with many additional features suited to the complexities of large animal rescue.

ATR training includes the study of animal behavior, anatomy, herd movements, basic handling and safety, security, safety. The goal of each ATR response is to help the animal(s) out of the difficult situation and keep all humans safe.

The principles of the techniques used were developed by a group of veterinarians; engineers; physicists; and experts in rope rescue, water rescue, hazardous materials, vehicle and animal handling and welfare, with input from firefighters from across the United States and other countries, including Canada, Great Britain, Australia and France.

In many communities, firefighters invite local veterinarians and horse and livestock owners to train with them. This helps a response flow much more smoothly – everyone understands their role.

We are fortunate here in Sonoma Valley to have the first (and best equipped) ATR team in North Bay. The Animal Emergency Response Team (SVAERT) is a service of the Sonoma Valley Fire District and Kenwood Fire Department, led by Captain Gary Johnson (who is also an ATR instructor).

This team was launched by The HALTER Project in 2015, with the enthusiastic participation of the Glen Ellen and Kenwood Fire Departments. When the Sonoma Valley agencies coalesced, Captain Johnson stepped in to assume leadership and development of ATR resources in the Valley and other jurisdictions.

In 2019, the HALTER project bought a trailer for the SVAERT and filled it with a full range of the best large animal rescue equipment. Since 2015, SVAERT has responded to calls for help in East Sonoma County and provided support as a self-help resource throughout the county.

Several other county departments have developed ATR response units, and this number is growing. This is great news for horse owners, riders, breeders and travelers with equines or livestock who find themselves, or their animals, in a bad situation.

How do you solicit these local superheroes?

In Sonoma County, you request a large animal rescue by first calling 911 and calmly and clearly explaining the situation. The dispatcher will route the request to the nearest resource.

What types of situations require handstand skills?

More often than not, people ask for help to get up. It could be a geriatric horse with a bad knee or a horse “thrown” in a stall.

These “rescues” usually only require a few strong straps, applied strategically and securely, and a bit of muscle. Horse owners can learn to perform these basic “assists” and, with a little help from a neighbor or worker, help their horses up without special technical assistance.

More complex and dangerous situations require an integrated team of qualified technicians, veterinarians

narians, possibly a heavy equipment operator, and possibly search and rescue personnel and paramedics to deal with any humans involved.

In our area, incidents can include hiking accidents, a horse stuck in the mud, helping a vet “pack” a sedated horse for transport, trailer accidents, flood rescue, and animal trapped in wells or septic tanks. (Yes, yuck, and extremely dangerous.)

Knowing how to call for help and what to do while waiting for help to arrive can have a big impact on the outcome of an animal emergency. The information below is available as a printable PDF, and you can also get one at Kenwood Press.

If you want to learn ATR skills yourself, subscribe to the HALTER Project mailing list to receive information about training opportunities. You can also visit the ResQFAST website to inquire about training.

Stay safe, be prepared and be sure to support our local fire departments. Request an animal emergency card by emailing your details to [email protected] org.

About Chuck Keeton

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