Several agencies joined forces in Wiggins and Verona to help train first responders how to rescue large animals safely following a disaster or accident.

“Mississippi is a rural and agricultural state, but many of our first responders have no experience with horses, cattle and other large animals,” said Elmo Collum, disaster preparedness coordinator for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Over the years that we have conducted these trainings, we have discovered that even people with large-animal experience can learn from the classes.”

In addition to the classroom material and hands-on exercises, participants, such as fire fighters and veterinarians, benefit from meeting others in their communities who might be needed during an incident.

Rebecca Gimenez of Georgia was one of the two primary instructors for the Technical Large Animal Emergency Response courses. She and Tomas Gimenez, a retired professor from South Carolina, teach the mental, psychological and physical considerations of rescuing large animals.

“We want participants to learn to minimize damage to the animals involved in disasters or accidents and to be aware of human safety concerns as well,” she said. “Responders always need to give the animal room to maneuver and avoid putting themselves or others in vulnerable places.”

Gimenez instructed participants to focus their efforts on the animal’s torso, rather than on the fragile extremities, such as legs, neck or head. She explained that most rescue trucks have equipment that can be adapted to meet a trapped or downed animal’s needs.

“We can’t prepare for every disaster, but we can prepare to be prepared,” she said. “This training offers first responders the opportunity to prepare to protect not only humans, but also their animals. It takes good teamwork among responding agencies.”

Carla Huston is an associate professor with MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the CVM Disaster Response Team. She said many animal incidents needing first responders involve cattle.

“Overturned livestock trailers are more common in Mississippi than most people realize,” she said. “We are a major corridor for transporting cattle to the Midwest and South Plains from Florida, Georgia and other states.”

Huston told participants about the Mississippi Animal Response Team, which is overseen by the Mississippi Board of Animal Health. MART is activated whenever natural or man-made animal disasters occur in the state and assistance is requested through the appropriate agencies. MART members include first responders, veterinarians and other volunteers from throughout the state.

The Mississippi Office of Homeland Security funded the recent three-day classes in Stone and Lee counties. Co-sponsors included MSU’s Extension Service, MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Mississippi Board of Animal Health.