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Saving animals in the event of an emergency

Emergency response trailers fill a need

First responders use equipment from the livestock emergency response trailer to contain hogs after the trailer hauling them rolled over. Credit: Ret. Sgt. Floyd Mullaney

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In Alberta, investing in emergency response livestock trailers wasn't so much a want as it was a need.

With more than 40,000 head of livestock travelling the province's highways each and every day, accidents happen.

And when they do, there isn't time to round up equipment and transport it to the scene of the emergency. Emergency responders need to be prepared to deal with the situation, which often includes animals in distress.

The need to effectively respond to these incidents was first identified several years ago in Red Deer, Alta. The solution was to have an emergency response livestock trailer for the county fire services, equipped with all the tools needed to deal with a collision involving animals like ropes, tarps, halters, lights and panels.

It has since become a province-wide initiative.

Fast response

Cpl. Dave Heaslip, a livestock investigator in K Division, became involved in the project during the planning stages for the first trailer.

"They brought me in to handle the administrative side of the trailer," says Heaslip. "It's fine to have a trailer like that, but we need to know how we get it and what we do with it."

Now, it just takes a 911 call and they'll roll out.

The trailers have been placed with fire departments across the province, as they have the means to transport them and they look after equipment carefully, says Ret. Sgt. Floyd Mullaney, who was contracted by Alberta Farm Animal Care to manage the project.

"They can be at an emergency within a reasonable amount of time, rather than four hours for a farmer to get everything together and get there," Mullaney says.

Through a combination of government and private funding, there are now 12 trailers across the province, with plans for at least half a dozen more.

Organized chaos

If first responders aren't familiar with livestock, their first instinct might be to let the animals out of the trailer because they are suffering.

"If they do get out, the potential for getting them killed or them hurting or killing someone is real, so you have to keep them inside," says Heaslip. "You have to recognize that you have to get them out as soon possible, but not until you can contain them."

In addition to the need for the trailers, there was also a need to train first responders how to use them and create awareness about how to appropriately handle livestock.

A livestock handling course is now being offered at Lakeland College in Vermillion, Alta., where they train firefighters, and Mullaney and Heaslip developed a training video and travel Alberta training police officers and firefighters.

Having attended several sessions, Sgt. Duncan Babchuk, the detachment commander of the Stettler Detachment, was aware of how to respond to these collisions. Last October, Babchuk was called to respond when a truck hauling more than 150 hogs rolled over, causing the animals to panic as the truck lay on its side.

The closest emergency livestock trailer was an hour away in Red Deer, but by a stroke of luck, the rollover occurred a short distance from a hog farm. Babchuk was able to enlist the help and expertise of the farmer.

"We were fortunate that this was the situation in this case, but if it wasn't, then one of these trailers would have been absolutely in order," says Babchuk.

A real need

He's now in the process of trying to secure funding to get a trailer in the Stettler area.

"They're invaluable," says Babchuk. "With all the livestock that we have travelling down the highways, my feeling is these should have been in place years ago."

And the trailers aren't just for collisions, they can be used to respond to any emergency involving livestock from stray animals along the highway to barn collapses.

"The fact is we've had 14 incidents in the last year where we used the trailers," Heaslip says. "But we hope that they sit in the fire hall and wait because we don't really want to have to respond to an accident, but it's nice that we can when we have to."

Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 3, 2014).

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