To many, animals are like members of the family, or crucial livelihood for farmers, which is why animal rescue emergencies are as important as any other for Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS).
The service’s dedicated animal rescue unit (ARU), based in Faversham, is made up of specially trained animal-loving firefighters, who have a passion for helping all creatures great and small, and they can be deployed across the county at any time.
And while most people don’t consider animal rescue when they think of KFRS, it’s an important role that sees the Kent crew helping a variety of species, from household pets to horses, deer and even elephants.
Equipped with a range of tools and machinery, including winches, strops and a crane, the team is able to manoeuvre and lift heavy animals that have got themselves into tricky situations, or are unable to move.
Crew Manager Hannah Poole, ARU, said, “While we are here to help the animals, by doing so we are also protecting the people who care about the animal in distress – we do our job so members of the public don’t put themselves at risk trying to rescue animals themselves.
“For example, if you’ve got a horse in a water filled ditch, the last thing we want is a well-meaning member of the public jumping in to rescue them, because then we have a horse and a person at risk.
“It’s only natural to want to do something to help but it is better that someone who has the correct equipment and training does that.”
In 2020, KFRS was called to 154 animal rescue incidents, with additional call-outs to assist neighbouring counties. And, while the initial call is always to help the animal in distress, the crew is mindful of the bigger picture.
“We’re also there to support the customer,” Hannah said. “We are able to be compassionate to the fact that this animal is like a member of their family. Or, for a farmer, they might not have the emotional attachment to the animal but that’s their livelihood.
“Everybody in the crew has something different to offer and sometimes, the most important role is the person who takes the owner to one side and gives them something positive to do.
“When the result isn’t what you wanted it to be, somehow the owner is still very grateful for the fact we gave their animal another chance.
“It’s the little things, such as if the owner doesn’t want to be there if their horse is going to be put down, I will hold that animal until it takes its last breath, and sometimes that can offer them some comfort that it wasn’t alone, which is actually a really precious thing.”
The crew members are all fully trained firefighters and respond to a range of non-animal related incidents, including fires, crashes and other emergencies.
When responding to animal rescues, the team can call on other resources within the fire and rescue service to assist, such as the water safety unit, or one of the service’s all-terrain vehicles. They also work closely alongside partner agencies, such as the RSPCA.
Hannah said, “Whenever we’ve worked with veterinary services and the RSPCA, they’re very keen to work with us and we work well in collaboration. We know we need to communicate well, and everybody needs to know what they’re doing to achieve a safe and successful outcome, especially when dealing with wild or large animals.
“Animal rescues are often long and complex, and it’s always different because no two rescues are the same. It’s such a rewarding role, because I can make a real difference.”