How a Minnesota organization helps first responders save four-legged lives
By Ashley Gaughan
On a cold February day several years ago, firefighters in New Brighton, Minn., responded to an emergency house fire call. The home belonged to one of the New Brighton department’s own firefighters.
Fellow crew members arriving on the scene were urged to locate and save Bart, his beloved German Shorthaired Pointer. Though rescued, the canine had experienced significant smoke inhalation and the team was unequipped to treat his medical needs.
On hearing the story, Dr. Janet Olson, DVM, DACVIM, realized as a veterinarian that she had the necessary knowledge to save Bart’s life. Not so for the first responders, who weren’t trained in medical care for animals.
“I think a lot of people are under the impression that dealing with animals in emergencies and disasters is incorporated into the fire service, but it hasn’t historically been so,” Olson says.
At that point, she began brainstorming how firefighters could be better prepared to save the lives of animals they encounter in everyday rescue situations.
Responding to a need
In 2004, Olson formed Basic Animal Rescue Training (BART), a non-profit organization to train and equip first responders on animal rescue situations.
The training and curriculum Olson developed has proved immensely impactful. Since its beginning, the Minnesota-based organization has trained almost 6,000 firefighters and first responders.
Thirty trainers comprised of veterinarians and veterinarian technicians teach courses on small animal rescue training in the state of Minnesota. BART’s training efforts have also expanded to Iowa, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Virginia.
BART trains emergency medical responders including firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and law enforcement officials who have first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) knowledge. These same basic rescue techniques are applied and adapted for animals. During the three-hour training, BART provides hands-on exercises with live dogs that cover three specific areas: handling and restraint, patient assessment/first aid and CPR.
The course on small animal training focuses primarily on dogs and cats, with topics including mouth-to-nose resuscitation and using oxygen masks. BART also offers a second training course on large animal rescues for horses, cows, sheep, pigs and other livestock.
Trained and retrained
The Minneapolis Fire Department first trained their staff with BART in 2008 and completed a refresher course with them again earlier this year. Amber Lage, who oversees the EMS training for the fire department, says the program is a perfect fit for the firefighters.
“We respond regularly to emergency situations that involve animals, whether a house fire, car accident, ice rescue or an emergency medical call,” she says. The comprehensive hands-on training helps ensure the firefighters’ own safety as well as increase the animal’s chance of survival when facing these situations.
Saved from a house fire
Olson says many fire departments and emergency teams have given feedback about how useful the training has been. One week after doing a BART training for a group of first responders in Massachusetts, one of the stations got a call in which a dog had been caught in a house fire. Having just gone through the training, the firefighters knew exactly what to do. After administering oxygen to the pet and giving him basic medical care, the dog made a full recovery.
“It’s great to see that through this training our volunteers are able to impact so many firefighters, families and the community in ways that we just couldn’t accomplish within the four walls of a veterinary hospital. It’s rewarding to see [the program] help empower others in dealing with these animals that need assistance,” Olson says.
Supporting and spreading the mission
From volunteer trainers to support from communities, there are many who help BART keep its mission going strong. Jack Perkins, executive director of the organization, says it’s been rewarding be a part of such a great cause.
“I think the mission is a great mission. I like the fact we are able to continue to expand throughout the country. It’s neat to see people want the information,” Perkins says.
Perkins wants to get the word out about BART’s goal to help animals and first responders. Since it operates solely on grants and donations, the non-profit welcomes support from donors and volunteers.
Lage is grateful for the program’s outreach and also credits Fire Chief John Fruetel for advocating BART training for their fire team. She says the Minneapolis Fire Department has responded to many calls in which they’ve successfully rescued companion animals thanks to the continued support and education BART gives them.
“Because we are pet lovers, we just seem to go above and beyond,” Lage says. “We realize a pet is a really important part of a family. And for us, it’s very rewarding to see a person reunited with their pet in the end.”
Ashley Gaughan is a Minneapolis-St. Paul writer. She enjoys writing about the people and community life in the Metro area as well as exploring the variety of restaurants, coffee shops and culture the Twin Cities offers.
Donate or get involved: Basic Animal Rescue Training, PO Box 130967, St. Paul, MN 55113
First Responder Training Courses are offered on-site at your training facility. To schedule a class in your area, contact BART at 612-282-2608 or firstname.lastname@example.org.