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Centre County emergency crews rise to challenge of animal rescues

Boalsburg Fire Company was called for the specialized rescue of two horses that had fallen into an in-ground swimming pool Tuesday, January 27, 2015. The horses had stepped onto and broken through the pool’s cover and were treading water when crews arrived at the property on Russell Road in Harris Township. Photo courtesy Centre LifeLink EMS, Inc.
Boalsburg Fire Company was called for the specialized rescue of two horses that had fallen into an in-ground swimming pool Tuesday, January 27, 2015. The horses had stepped onto and broken through the pool’s cover and were treading water when crews arrived at the property on Russell Road in Harris Township. Photo courtesy Centre LifeLink EMS, Inc.

Two days after rescuing two horses from a freezing swimming pool, Van Winter is still warmed by the experience.

“It was pretty amazing,” the Boalsburg Fire Company chief said Thursday.

The first responders were called early Tuesday morning to save the mother horse and her foal. It was very different from the normal calls of smoke alarms and car crashes.

“We go to a lot of trainings. We deal with a lot of things; we learn what to do with hazmat, but this is one of those things you don’t expect, that you don’t plan for,” Winter said.

But Jennifer Zajaczkowski does. She is part of the Centre County Animal Response Team. For about 10 years, the team has been the go-to unit when it comes to keeping animals safe in dangerous situations.

“It’s kind of more typical than most people realize,” Zajaczkowski said.

There are fires and accidents, animals that wander away from where they should be, or like the horses, animals that just get into situations they don’t understand.

“Animals perceive the world very different than we do,” she said. That means that what is obviously a snow-covered pool to us looks like just more snowy lawn to them. Sometimes that leads to problems, but it doesn’t always mean a call to CART.

“A lot of times, the situation gets resolved before a 911 call is even made,” Zajaczkowski said.

CART was called in Tuesday, but Boalsburg firefighters were able to get the horses to safety before the animal team was on site.

“Sometimes, in a life-saving situation, you are just always looking for answers,” said Winter, whose team built a set of stairs out of wooden pallets and plywood to help the animals make the 4- to 5-foot climb. “We had to improvise. It was brainstorming between the members.”

Zajaczkowski said that for the dozen members of her team, including two veterinarians and an animal behaviorist, the safety of the emergency personnel is part of the goal. While some incidents are about saving an animal, sometimes, like an accident that would involve a truck hauling animals, the animals could be in danger but their inability to understand the situation could make them dangerous to the crews trying to handle the situation. That is where CART comes in.

The animal response teams in Pennsylvania are among the first in the nation. Zajaczkowski said, with only North Carolina having a statewide system of animal teams in place before the Keystone State.

“Our motto is ‘Any animal, anywhere, anytime,’” she said.

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