University of Florida Veterinary Disaster Response Team Learns New Skills

When it comes to teams representing the University of Florida, the national champion football and basketball teams might be getting all the headlines, but the University's College of Veterinary Medicine Disaster Response Team should not be overlooked. This group is actively seeking training to become a first-class disaster response unit.

Besides having a deployable field hospital (much like a M*A*S*H unit for animals large and small), the team members are proficient in large animal technical rescue, capable of utilizing a helicopter to rescue large animals, as well as having equipment to perform rescues in mud, water, or below grade.

The core team members have all been trained by Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Inc. (TLAER). This training includes instruction in animal behavior, as well as a variety of rescue scenarios. The team is made up of staff, students, technicians, clinicians, and administrators, who volunteer their time. Members of the statewide Veterinary Reserve Corps also join the team for training.

Through the support of various agencies, foundations, and donors, the college has been able to obtain the required equipment to respond as both a State Agricultural Response Team resource during disasters, and to be a community response unit.

Using an Anderson sling on a live horse
A team member learns to rappel

Top: Team members learn to use an Anderson sling to support a live horse. Bottom: Learning to rappel.

The team plans to cover the five counties surrounding the college in Gainesville for trailer accidents, horses in need of technical rescue, and more.

Team leader and College of Veterinary Medicine Director John Haven decided to pursue advanced training for his team after recognizing the dangers of inserting his team members into a real rescue environment.

After a TLAER course, lots of practice, and running training simulations with Gainesville Fire Rescue and Alachua County Fire Rescue, Haven decided to introduce the team to another skill set that might be required in an emergency situation. He contacted Richard Wright, president of Wright Rescue Solutions, to get the team set up to learn the National Fire Protection Association's structural rope operator level standards.

Along with training for the rescuers, Haven also arranged to have the experts from Wright Rescue Solutions review equipment configuration and system efficiency for hauling large animals. Using human grade equipment--1/2 inch and 5/8 inch ropes--to raise and to lower animals weighing more than 1,400 pounds means maximum system efficiency is a must, as is careful analysis of the load on all points of the system to maximize the system's safety factor.

Chief TLAER instructor Tomas Gimenez, DVM, also joined the team to contribute his experiences in order to optimize the systems and present challenges to the team.

From Aug. 25 to 29, the team rappelled, raised and lowered weight, and studied the mechanical advantage and critical stress points of the systems. By the end of the course the team was smoothly lifting a 600-lb dummy horse utilizing an A frame. The team has also practiced with Haven's 1,400-lb personal horse, Shannon.

When hurricane season subsides, the team intends to send several of its members to "swift water" rescue training.

Haven said the team hopes to become a regular community resource in the coming months, as well as to be recognized for its advanced capabilities and training. It is the intent of the team to operate through the county Incident Command System response structure. They still have to work out the response protocols with the surrounding communities to determine how the team will be activated, and how communications during a response will be handled.

One of the benefits of having the team based at a college of veterinary medicine is the population of students eager to take part. Between the AAEP Student Chapter and the Public Health Service Club, there are a large number of students interested in learned about veterinary disaster response, and large animal technical rescue. Once they graduate, these students will become key resources in their communities to assist during emergencies.

To help support its training, the team accepts donations via the University of Florida Foundation.--John Haven

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