Animals | Rescues of a different nature

Jon Southgate is a Station Commander, his role being that of Deputy District Commander of the South District of Suffolk’s Fire & Rescue Service.

suffolk fire and rescue

Dogs down holes, squirrels up poles, kittens under floors, frightened boars, birds trapped in netting, even horses & cows getting wetting (sorry about that one!)

Those are just a few of my personal animal rescues but, across Suffolk, almost every firefighter has a funny story to tell about this often-overlooked aspect of our role. 

There’s national guidance in place for our crews to follow and we go even further to ensure the safety of rescuers and the animal, whatever the size. We’re working more closely with vets in Suffolk to agree and test protocols in rescuing large animals, to ensure a much more measured and ultimately safer approach. 

Believe it or not, a kick or a flick of the head from a horse or cow can easily break a bone of a well-intended rescuer and we must avoid that at all costs. Even the owner is at high risk as they often try to calm their animal, so we have to manage some very high emotions.

We now agree rescue methods, escape routes and wait for the vet to sedate an animal, before we attempt the rescue. Crews might wear water rescue gear if the animal is in a ditch or river. We also have our boat to utilise, which allows firefighters to get straps on the water side of the animal. Then by attaching to our off-road Unimog crane, we can safely lift the animal to freedom.

We can spend hours trying to effect a rescue and even though we may be successful, sometimes the trauma of the confinement is too much for the animal and they might still have to be put down. Most of us are pet owners and it is a real roller coaster of emotions sometimes.

So, my scariest moment? Whilst off duty at the Hadleigh Show; walking past the show bulls and seeing one get startled and trample its handler - I had to time it right but dived in and pulled him clear of the flailing hooves before giving him first aid! 

The owner later contacted the fire service to say he’d made a full recovery but it goes to show, we’re always there to help the public!