Helping vets and emergency services respond to animal rescues

Posted on September 16, 2016 by John Blackwell

Last week I was both honoured and indeed humbled to be nominated for Vet of the Year at the Animal Hero Awards 2016, hosted jointly by the RSPCA and Trinity Mirror Group. The nomination, which was completely out of the blue, was due to my involvement over the years with large animal rescues.

Many BVA members (or at least those who have been around as long as me) will recall an initiative set up by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, particularly Jim Green and Anton Phillips, to coordinate the response to animal rescues. The scheme aimed to standardise protocols and procedures for vets and Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) personnel who attended incidents with animals, such as entrapment or road traffic accidents.

I became involved when I was an officer with the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) in an attempt to roll out the programme to include farmed species. Although the challenges to recover are similar, it is likely rescuers will have to deal with multiple animals, and the drivers for recovery can be very different.

My own experience of a large animal rescue

Newspaper cutting - Bypass horrorLittle did I know at the time that in March 2010 I would put what I had learned into practice as the call came in to attend a major incident on the A5, a large trunk road that bisects the Welsh and Shropshire borders and sits right in the middle of our patch.

A car had gone under a chemical tanker (that had thankfully just emptied its load of concentrated HCl acid!), and what transpired to be a 40-foot artic livestock container had jacknifed and flipped over through the side barriers of the bridge on the opposite side of the dual carriageway. All this on a carriageway 150 feet up in the air.

Three cattle had ejected through the tailgate, which had broken on impact, and had fallen to the valley floor. One had managed to stay on the carriageway but with an obvious fractured foreleg. As the incident transpired we had 40 finished beef animals remaining in the trailer that precariously balanced on the carriageway in ‘thin air’. Two people had tragically lost their lives at the scene, which brought the gravity of the incident home.

I attended at 4.30pm and left the scene, along with a colleague, the following morning at 6.15 am. I had destroyed 17 animals in the container, had some destroyed by police firearms as it was unsafe for me to access them, and managed to remove 15 live animals to a safe cordon of gates and mobile handling facility set up on the bridge. I will openly admit that at the end of the tragedy I was both physically and emotionally wrecked, but had confidently carried out my role in liaison with the incident command and the police officers in attendance.

Scene of accident by John Blackwell

Scene of accident at dusk by John Blackwell

Get involved with the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association

Today this whole initiative has evolved into an organisation known as the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA). Its aim is to educate those involved in animal rescue, whilst safeguarding emergency responders and the public without compromising animal welfare.

BARTA has re-engineered its training programme which will soon be available, promoted by BVA, BEVA and BCVA. The programme comprises of online learning mixed with classroom-based scenario discussion groups that will equip colleagues with the skills to work effectively as part of the incident command system. Focussing on a casualty centred approach through initial assessment, triage, the use of effective chemical restraint to enable extrication, or indeed the early identification of the non-viable casualty and timely euthanasia, it also instils an awareness that your own safety and that of FRS personnel and members of the public is paramount.

The long term vision is to create a network of suitably trained veterinary surgeons who can be readily accessed by the FRS when incidents, large or small, arise. If you think of our medical colleagues and the standardised approach to human casualties offered by medical professionals under the BASICS scheme, you can see what BARTA is aiming to achieve.

And back to the Animal Hero Awards… in case you’re wondering, I didn’t win, but congratulations to winner Janey Lowes and fellow nominee Kayleigh Hill. Despite walking away empty-handed, I’m extremely proud to have been able to showcase what Jim Green, Josh Slater and the wider BARTA team is putting in place. Have a look at the BARTA website, be inspired and get involved!

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John Blackwell

Written by John Blackwell

BVA President from September 2014 to September 2015

John is a farm animal and equine practitioner, and a director at Brownlow Veterinary Centre in Shropshire. Follow John on Twitter