Firefighters Put Animal Rescue Training to Use

Firefighter with horse.
UC Davis Fire Capt. Nathan Potter was one of the firefighters who trained with large animals this spring.

When the UC Davis Fire Department trained with campus experts this spring on how to corral loose animals and load horses into trailers, the firefighters likely had no idea they’d be putting their new skills to use so soon.

On June 19, they did just that, evacuating a barn full of goats, chickens and a young calf as a grass fire barreled toward it. And thank goodness they did, because the wind-stoked flames eventually consumed the barn.

“Instead of futily attempting to save the barn, my decision was to direct the crew to evacuate the animals as quickly as possible and protect the adjoining house,” Acting Capt. Ben Rizzo said.

The incident began as a car fire that spread to the grass on a property near Dixon. Authorities called in reinforcements — and that brought out the campus Fire Department.

“Rizzo and his crew were able to immediately draw on their recent animal handling and rescue training provided by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Animal Science,” according to a report on the veterinary medicine website.

“Their hands-on experience allowed them to prioritize the animal life risk and understand what was needed to move them. The firefighters were able to get the animals from a place of immediate danger to a safe refuge. Swift actions and a good understanding of animal behavior and handling certainly saved numerous lives that evening.”

The training program had been in the works since last fall, led by Jim Green, director of rescue for the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association, and who also is a firefighter in Hampshire, England. The School of Veterinary brought him here for a yearlong stint with the Center for Equine Health, to add to the expertise the school already has with its Veterinary Emergency Response Team and International Animal Welfare Training Institute.

In conjunction with the UC Davis Horse Barn, Green developed a risk-based approach to situations in which firefighters encounter animals that need to be rescued or safely moved from harm’s way.

“Firefighters and other responders have to take very different actions in response to the presence of animals at any incident they attend compared to our typical calls for service,” Green said. “Risks range from a domestic pet protecting its environment at home, to defending its owner in a car crash, to a wildland fire where trapped and scared large animals require evacuation.”

UC Davis’ collaboration with Green will extend to the Incidents Involving Animals Conference, Oct. 21-22, hosted by the School of Veterinary Medicine in Partnership with the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association.

Cody Kitaura and Rob Warren contributed to this report. Kitaura is a content provider for Dateline UC Davis and UC Davis Magazine, and Warren is communications and marketing officer for the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital.

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