Vets launch animal handling course for firefighters

Shropshire firefighters are among the first in the UK to benefit from an animal handling course newly launched by veterinary scientists at the University of Liverpool to help firefighters work safely in rescue incidents involving large animals such as cows and horses.

Merseyside, North Wales, Manchester, and Shropshire Fire and Rescue services have enrolled on the course, which addresses the major risks associated with handling animals, including horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. Firefighters learn about the health and safety aspects of working in a farm environment and the different approaches needed for handling horses that are loose in a field or stabled in a yard.

Large animals can become distressed if they sense danger and can inflict serious injury on firefighters during rescue operations. Emergency services need staff with specialist knowledge in animal behaviour and handling in order to work safely with horses and farm animals, said a leading vet lecturer.

"In a rural county such as Shropshire, the Fire Service receives numerous calls to animal rescue incidents, ranging from birds trapped in netting to bullocks falling into wells," said Shropshire fire service's Training Manager Phil Clarke.

"There is always a risk when dealing with animals, no matter how small. It is imperative that we give our crews as much knowledge as we can about animal behaviour. It is how best to recognise the warning signs and how they can work alongside the farming community and the veterinary service to ensure that there is a safe outcome for all, including the animal."

Shropshire firefighters have attended 45 animal rescues since April including a recent rescue in which a bullock fell down a well.

Dr Caroline Argo, Lecturer in Animal Science and Equine Reproduction, said: "Firefighters are dealing with emergency situations that involve large and small animals all the time, but the aim of this course is to ensure that all rescue workers feel confident and safe working with animals in these situations. It is also important that all officers are able to predict how animals will behave in different circumstances and have a good theoretical and practical knowledge of working with large animals in their environment."

Dr Rob Smith, Clinical Director of Livestock and Farms added: "Trying to move cattle and sheep out of harm's way is very different to moving horses or small animals. Cattle and sheep have very strong herding instincts and will try and stay together, jumping over fences or running through lines of people to get back to the herd, if separated.

"Horses are more used to human contact and may gain some comfort from them, but if they are trapped they will often remain relatively calm until they are almost free, at which point they can bolt and run. In these instances emergency services need to make sure that before an animal is freed, there is somewhere safe for it to go and that it can be controlled."

The course is part of the Animal Rescue Forum, which involves the Fire Service, RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association (BEVA). It was set up to provide co-ordinated training programmes in animal rescue for fire fighters, equine vets and RSPCA members. The training programme is supported by the Animal Rescue Squad of the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service.

Emergency Services who wish to take part in the course should contact the School of Veterinary Science, Leahurst, by telephoning: 0151 794 6061 or visiting the website at:

Merseyside, North Wales, Manchester, and Shropshire fire services will take part in the one-day course at Elmhurst, Neston, on Monday, 19 October.

26th October, 2009