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Larger Animals A Challenge For Colorado Responders

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An evacuated horse at the Larimer County Fairgrounds (credit: CBS)

An evacuated horse at the Larimer County Fairgrounds (credit: CBS)

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) – Local first-responders have answered many an equine-emergency summons, but it has always involved an injured rider.

Jane Giese with Code 3 Associates portrays a victim pinned under Lucky, an 800-pound rubber horse, as firefighters from Upper Pine Fire Protection District evaluate Giese during a large-animal rescue training exercise and Colorado Trails Ranch.

But after two days of training last weekend, seven Upper Pine Fire Protection District firefighters feel confident they could rescue the mount, too, Capt. Cate Harding said.

The training, at Colorado Trails Ranch, was provided by Code 3 Associates, which is called to disasters nationwide and in Canada to provide large-animal rescues, mainly horses and cattle.

Massive wildfires that burned throughout the West this summer highlighted the challenge that rescuing large animals and livestock can pose. Code 3 often is called in to lend a hand not only with fires, but also floods and hurricanes.

As an extension of its mission, the Longmont firm gives law-enforcement and animal-control officers, firefighters and veterinarians across the country the basics on how to rescue livestock, executive director Jim Boller said.

He recently was in New Mexico and Nevada.

“Most participants already are familiar with helping people,” Boller said. “We incorporate the livestock aspect into their training.”

On the first day at Colorado Trails Ranch, participants learned about equine physiology and behavior and became familiar with the equipment they’d use when they left the classroom.

The next morning, they practiced using two scenarios. In the first, a woman’s horse, toppled by a spooked horse she was leading, pinned her to the ground on a mountain slope and couldn’t get to its feet.

The victim was Jane Giese, a Code 3 employee. Giese’s mount was Lucky, an 800-pound stallion made of vulcanized rubber. The spooked horse was for real.

Boller and Eric Thompson, also from Code 3, watch but the students are on their own. As one of them catches the loose horse, the others stabilize the victim who has a dislocated shoulder and walk her to a safe location.

They then place the horse on a slide – a sheet of rubberized material – and with a pulley system anchored to a tree uphill, haul the horse to safety.

The second rescue involves a horse that has fallen from a 60-foot cliff. The rescuers rappel down to the equine, assemble a metal A-frame and lift the horse – Lucky again – to the top.

“We haven’t had occasion to rescue a horse, but we get called fairly regularly for riders who have fallen off or been bucked off their horse,” Harding said. “We have a lot of ravines here and a lot of people who don’t know how to ride well.”

The training oriented about one-third of Upper Pine’s full-time firefighters on how to rescue a horse in distress, Harding said.

Only one of the seven students, Russ Roberts with Colorado Mounted Search and Rescue from Pagosa Springs, wasn’t an Upper Pine employee. Harding’s co-workers were Josh Schmidt, Dayson Goetz, Mark Caldwell, Charles Bennett, Jonathan Schultheiss and Mike North.

North also is maintenance and herd health manager at Colorado Trails Ranch.

“We’ve never had a horse rescue here,” North said. “But in case we do, I can get things started until others arrive.”

Code 3 is a nonprofit. Its courses are certified by Colorado State University and its veterinary teaching hospital.

Boller has been around animals most of his working life. He transported zoo animals for 15 years before working as an animal-control officer in Maryland for seven years and in Texas for 11 years.

Back-to-back hurricanes Katrina and Rita kept him on the Gulf Coast for 3½ months. He also was on standby during recent Hurricane Isaac.

Code 3 doesn’t back away from any animal rescue, Boller said. He walked an elephant out of a flooded zoo in Texas, and during Hurricane Ike in Galveston, he removed a student’s hissing cockroaches from a high school because officials worried they would escape and infest the neighborhood.

Code 3 has conducted animal-cruelty investigation training and an equine-investigation academy at Colorado Trails Ranch for 28 years.

Officials in small communities do well to familiarize their emergency responders with animal rescue, which, after Hurricane Katrina, is being required in a number of states, Boller said.

“They don’t require a lot of expensive gear they might use only once or twice a year,” Boller said. “They probably carry 60 to 70 percent of what they need – webbing, caribiners and pulleys – in their vehicles.”

- By DALE RODEBAUGH, The Durango Herald

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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