Launch of the Emergency Services Protocol and the equine veterinary practice directory by the British Horse Society and BEVA in 2007 was a landmark event that marked the beginning of a cohesive animal rescue initiative in the UK.
The protocol provided guidance for those responding to incidents involving horses and was written in response to calls from equine media and welfare organisations for better animal rescue provision within rescue services. Some notable events were cited where lack of knowledge, particularly from the FRS placed responders and the public in immediate danger, with the related knock on effect of poor animal welfare and even suffering.
In 2008, following a successful national animal rescue conference hosted by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) established an Animal Rescue Practitioners Forum (ARPF) led by Hampshire and mandated to develop national standard operating procedures (SOP’s) for large and small animal rescue and supplement that with approved techniques, equipment and training. The CFOA Forum is currently made up of representatives from most of the UK Fire and Rescue Services with additional standing members from the RSPCA and British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).
Whilst Fire and Rescue Services have always responded when called upon, recognition of inherent risks at incidents involving animals has rapidly led to the introduction of trained teams within many Fire and Rescue Services. Historically, veterinary attendance at rescues was not always considered necessary by the owner or emergency responders and if veterinary assistance was called it was often post rescue for an animal that was medically compromised. The UK Fire and Rescue Service national SOP for large animal rescue clearly highlights the importance of immediate veterinary attendance for safety and tactical planning as well as animal welfare for all large animal rescues. With around 5,000 incidents each year, calls to rescues will become a more frequent activity for UK veterinary practitioners as animal rescue teams become established in all regions and operate in accordance with the SOP.
Advice to Government by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) has further highlighted the need to coordinate and resource animal rescue response in readiness for disaster or emergency (FAWC Opinion on Contingency Planning for Farm Animal Welfare in Disasters and Emergencies March 2012).
The FRS and veterinary profession have been working together to deliver joint training since 2008 with more than 250 equine practitioners trained so far and widespread training programmes initiated within the FRS at awareness, responder and specialist levels. The original focus of the initiative for the FRS and the veterinary profession was incidents involving large animals because these represent a significant immediate risk and were seen as high priority as well as an appropriate start point for development of training, standards and techniques. It is well known however that Fire and Rescue personnel come into contact with distressed and injured animals of all types during many routine incidents for which further knowledge and training is required. Other emergency responders, notably the Highways Agency, have adopted basic awareness training in conjunction with the FRS although there is still considerable work to be done to reach other groups who form part of the wider response.
Within veterinary circles the animal rescue initiative has been championed by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) in conjunction with the British Horse Society (BHS) and supported by equine welfare groups, as incidents involving horses were common and often well publicised. Since inception, the vision has been to expand the veterinary input to include all species and the first steps have been taken to include cattle through the involvement of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) from 2009.
The vision for the initiative has been to establish protocols, techniques and effective cross agency working for equine rescue and then to extend the initiative to include other species and expand capability from individual animal incidents to large scale transportation incidents involving groups of animals. Progress has been rapid and there is now high demand for training and technique development not just from the emergency response agencies and the veterinary profession but also a wide range of other stakeholder groups and in a variety of different arenas including racing, equestrian competitions and agricultural shows.