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January 14, 2014

Emergency Response Gets Life from Firefighters

Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast, turning the world upside down for so many people and animals. The nation rallied to help the region, and that included rushing in to help animals and the people who care about them. In addition to the enormous response we mounted, The HSUS worked hard to help pass the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in the months after the disaster response faded. The PETS Act requires local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in a major disaster or other emergency event.

In addition to some states forming State Animal Response Teams in the wake of the PETS Act, many communities created Community Animal Response Teams trained to assist the people helping animals and the animals themselves during crisis situations. We also created our Animal Rescue Team, which is called on by local agencies when a cruelty case or a natural disaster is too large for a local group to handle on their own.

Training pic - TLAER
Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, Inc.
Firefighters lead horses out of a simulated barn fire
during a training.

One leap forward happened very recently in the United States: the National Fire Protection Association, with a membership of 70,000 individuals, included a chapter and annex on animal rescue. This group has an audience of primarily firefighters and first responders, and publishes more than 300 codes and standards each year. This addition to the guide, which is often referred to as providing the de-facto standards for those in technical rescue, has been in the works for several years and this year marks the first time that animal rescue has been covered in the standard. It includes several techniques for both small and large animals, as well as what signs to look for in an animal’s behavior that indicates if the animal is afraid, aggressive, or shy, among other things.

The chapter and annex that have been added to the NFPA standard address the different levels of training that first responders can take. This includes the awareness level, which trains those responding first to the scene (most often firefighters) to have the basic knowledge to keep themselves and their colleagues safe, and to minimize stress on the animal while they intervene or call upon others with more specialized training. Knowing whom to ask for help, and quickly, can be a life-or-death decision for an animal in crisis.

If every fire department in the United States had the training to assess a situation involving an animal in distress and knew what expertise it called for (whether it be a vet, local CART team, technical animal response team, or animal control agency), emergency response would improve drastically for animals, including those not covered in the PETS Act, which is limited to household pets and service animals.

This latest development in emergency response for animals, years after the PETS Act passed, shows the catalytic impact of legislation. While not everything changed immediately with the PETS Act, there have been a series of incremental improvements to first response and animal care brought on by its enactment. For example, today the New Jersey Senate is scheduled to consider A-3445, sponsored by Assembly Members Annette Quijano, Connie Wagner and Joseph Cryan. This legislation would permit pet owners to board public transportation with domesticated animals during emergency evacuation.

It’s great that the NFPA has seen the importance of including animals in their standards, and I hope that momentum continues to build so that we as a nation are better able to serve people and animals in crisis situations.

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