To the Rescue: Wildlife and Livestock Extrication: What Is Old Can Be New Again

Carl j. Haddon

Although this may seem like a title for a “Rurally Speaking” article, you’d be surprised at how many different opportunities there are for wildlife and livestock extrications in even the most urban settings. The meat and potatoes of this piece involve the vehicles that haul livestock. However, animals manage to get themselves entrapped in numerous ways that require extrication intervention.

Any roadway with vehicles from big rig livestock haulers to pickup trucks with horse trailers can be the scene of a crash where animals of varying shapes and sizes can be entrapped or injured. From vehicles going to and from an inter-city equestrian event to the hundreds of fully loaded livestock trucks that travel our highways and byways every single day of the year, crashes involving these vehicles present unique and often extremely challenging and gut-wrenching extrication scenes when they are involved in wrecks. Anyone who has been involved in such an extrication knows exactly what I speak of.

These types of rescue calls obviously come in when a livestock or horse trailer is struck by another vehicle, overturns, or most commonly is severely rear ended, resulting in the inability to access the animals by way of the normal doors, gates, or ramps. Some may wonder why these calls would present challenges to “trained rescuers” who feel they are proficient with hydraulic rescue tools and rotary saws that are more than capable of conquering the metals that animal trailers are made of. The answer is often overlooked until things get “western.”

Have you ever had an entrapment with injuries where the injured victim doesn’t speak the same language that you do? The inability to communicate with your patients has the potential to increase their level of panic, especially when you can’t convey to them what you and your crew are going to do to get them out or offer them reassurance and reassessment throughout the extrication and extraction process. Now imagine a more than 1,200-pound injured animal or animals that are entrapped or injured, and you can’t communicate with them. I own a working ranch in Idaho. I own a herd of horses and have raised cattle. I know firsthand that an injured horse or cow (or elk, or deer, or moose, etc.) is a very dangerous animal. You may not know what panic looks like until you come face to face with an injured or entrapped animal. I have spent my fair share of time as a patient in the emergency room as a result of dealing with panic-driven livestock.

Large livestock and wildlife also regularly become entrapped in things like cattle guards (tubular metal grates that span driveways and roadways to deter livestock from getting out of bounds). Their hooves will miraculously make their way between the tubes, but they can’t get their legs back out of them. These same types of animals also become entangled in fences, gates, barbed wire, and a host of things that require human (firefighter) intervention. Animals such as deer, elk, and moose are often struck by vehicles, which results in their being stuck inside the vehicle while still very much alive.


As you might imagine, many of these types of calls require the summoning of a large animal veterinarian to the scene. Does your department have large animal vets on its list of essential resources? Do you know how long it would take a vet to get to one of your crash sites? What if the vet is in the middle of a surgery when dispatch calls? Even if you have a great veterinarian on site, these calls can be quite a challenge. Let’s look at some of the equipment, tools, and systems that are often needed for these kinds of calls.

Remember that in the case of an animal trailer being struck or overturned, we need to be able to create an incident action plan that allows for calculated access to the animal prior to the vet being able to do work. Loud, fire-breathing tools like rotary saws are usually reserved as a last-ditch resource, even though we know them to be able to make quick work of an aluminum stock trailer. With our goal being to access the animal as quickly, quietly, and calmly as possible, we often find that a combination of old school and modern rescue tools is most successful and results in the best outcome. Often, if the owner of the animal is on the scene (and uninjured), he can be a fantastic resource and tool to help. That said, if the owner is panicked (remember that horses and cattle represent thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in investment by the owner), the owner can also be a nightmare to have on scene. Old-school tools such as Porta Powers, and Hi-Lift® or farm jacks can be quiet and effective for spreading cattle guard tubing or moving metal without the noise of conventional hydraulic rescue tools or rotary saws. The use of battery-powered or electric-over-hydraulic rescue tools can often have the same results, although they may be significantly noisier.

Often, the entrapped animal will need to be sedated by the vet prior to extricating it. This scenario will also likely call for the animal to be slung or mechanically supported to keep it from falling on rescuers or from causing further injury to itself from falling. Is your department equipped to sling and hoist a cow, horse, or moose that weighs in excess of 1,000 pounds? My guess is that even though you may never have needed to perform such a rescue, your department has more of the necessary tools and adjuncts than you might expect. The “cheater” that you may have as a resource is a good towing and recovery company that typically has additional tools to help out.

Consider consulting with a local large animal vet in your area to come to a training session where you can match resources, methods, and tactics to make such calls safer and more efficient for everyone. It is my experience that both the fire department and the veterinarian will enjoy learning from one another. They often understand as much about what we do on the job as we understand about what they do.

Remember that a good realistic and dynamic size-up and constant situational awareness will go far to keep you and your crew safe on these types of scenes.

CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.

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