Can we afford to ignore the animal issue?

Animal rescue training taking place.

The British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA) provides effective role specific solutions to organisations whose teams encounter animals in the course of their duties, but who else might benefit from exploring these unique workplace risks?

Words: Jim Green, Director of Operations, BARTA

We work with a range of response organisations, including fire and rescue services, police, ambulance service and many other Category 1 responders under the Civil Contingencies Act. Incidents involving animals are often dynamic and hazardous environments that require an immediate, risk-based response.  

With increasing animal ownership, wherever people get into difficulty, or an emergency has occurred, there may be an animal that requires managing or rescuing too. In these stressful situations, animals respond with instinct and those interacting with them should have sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions.

An important aspect of decision making when dealing with animals is the ability to predict future behaviour or emerging risk. The emotional effects of the human animal bond present an incentive to act and this often leads to operational activity that is intuitive, rather than analytical.

Training needs

Fire and rescue services, for example, will use National Operational Guidance to understand site specific risks where animals are present, to avoid interaction with animals where possible and to utilise specialist skills when doing so. It provides a framework, but specific training may still be necessary.

All responders may need training in recognising and anticipating animal behaviours and how to physically interact with them. There are many considerations at play here, including a requirement to supplement control measures from outside agencies, such as provision of chemical control by veterinarians. Species specialists may urgently be required to assist in creating a tactical plan where exotics or wildlife are impacted. Transfer to definitive veterinary care may be the priority for domestic animals following fire or other trauma. Careful planning may be required for marooned or evacuated animals during wildfire or flood.

Responders from any agency can encounter animals of various species groups, with individual welfare or handling needs during almost any incident type. For example, ambulance crews responding to incidents in the home, RNLI and HM Coastguard responding to incidents at sea, each must know how to manage the potential risks from animals.

Operational response

Operationally, the presence of animals may hinder an emergency responder and present a physical injury risk. The legal framework surrounding animals may also have a direct bearing on the tactical plan and organisational duty of care may not be well known or understood.

To fully understand the implications of a decision, commanders must have sufficient situational awareness of species characteristics, tasks, environmental factors and capabilities of those required to resolve the incident.

In 2019, we launched our foundation package, the 10 Steps to Situational Awareness. We created this to help fire and rescue services interpret National Operational Guidance and associated workplace risk but it equally applies to other responders. This is freely available via our website in its basic form and with more resources for those who wish to embed within organisational learning platforms. This risk assessment tool is threaded through each of BARTA’s modules and levels of practical training. It can be used at all levels of a response organisation to interpret animal factors, identify specific resource requirements and promote safe practices.

Training from BARTA

BARTA provides a range of training opportunities both online and face to face. These have been created with stakeholder sector engagement and collaboration. Those familiar with large animal response will recognise our foundation, responder and team leader training as the historic AR1/2/3 capabilities, equipping a team to operate safely at a basic large animal rescue.

Team Leader courses are delivered centrally at the BARTA training facility in Buckinghamshire, home of our parent charity, The Horse Trust. Responder courses can be delivered centrally, or flexibly through identifying suitable venues within an organisation’s area.

BARTA encourages regional collaboration by fire and rescue services to maximise the efficiency of training, while ensuring provision is to the highest standard. Bespoke options are available to other response organisations, we are happy to discuss individual needs.

We are introducing two new courses for 2023: a course for those delivering large animal rescue through internal competency frameworks and a course focused on the role of the animal incident tactical adviser.

We find that many requests received through emergency control rooms where animals are involved might not neatly fit incident typing or predetermined attendance. The role of the animal incident tactical advisor is to interpret the situation and conclude a rationale for advising, resourcing or referring the request based on the factors leading to appropriate situational awareness.

Constraints and amendments to working practices by traditional charities such as the RSPCA are changing the way emergency planners must respond to foreseeable animal incidents. BARTA’s aim is to develop a robust source of internal advice for response agencies and collaborate with welfare charities, including our stakeholder, the RSPCA to find solutions to local, regional and national occurrences. As we reach our 10-year anniversary, we continue to deepen our understanding of working with animals and share this with responders across the wide spectrum of the emergency services.

Jim Green is speaking The Emergency Services Show on 22 September.