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Handling livestock emergencies

First responders get help | Trailers are designed to improve animal and human safety

RED DEER — Five emergency livestock trailers are available in Alberta to help capture stray animals and deal with livestock involved in an accident, natural disaster, building collapse or vehicle rollover.

Lorna Baird, executive director of Alberta Farm Animal Care, said the millions of head of livestock that are transported each year means trailers are needed to help first responders safely deal with livestock.

Each trailer costs about $22,000 and is equipped with panels, plywood, snow fence, generators, lights, cutting equipment, ropes and wire to help deal with animals in an accident.

Four of the trailers will go to the Municipal District of Willow Creek, Municipal District of Westlock, the County of Vermilion River and Cypress County. A fifth trailer will be used by the SPCA, but it isn’t equipped with as much emergency equipment.

Orest Popil, chief of protective services with the County of Vermilion River, said they could have used the trailer two weeks earlier when a cattle liner and sport utility vehicle collided on the highway.

“We would have been more organized if we would have had this trailer so we could have put up the panels and hauled the cattle away,” said Popil, who had to deal with injured people and livestock.

“It has all the tools we are going to need to handle small emergencies.”

Cypress County fire chief Dennis Mann said the trailers are needed to help deal with scared and injured animals.

“When these things roll over, typically livestock are trapped and pinned and we were shooting. Quite frankly, that’s what was happening. They were euthanized before they should have been. We are certainly hoping with the help of this trailer and the right training and the right people out there at the right time, these animals can survive and we can send our first responders home safe,” said Mann, who started looking at building a trailer several years ago after a rash of livestock accidents.

“We were lacking in the ability to humanely handle the traumatized livestock and to ensure the safety of our first responders and the public.

“There is definitely a need to humanely deal with these traumatized animals.”

Many of the county’s 200 volunteer firefighters are farmers and know how to deal with livestock, but not every farmer is an expert in all livestock.

“Horses are really dangerous to work with when they’re traumatized, and we were putting people at risk trying to get them out,” he said.

“This is a really good starting point for us. Yes, we will build on these trailers and we recognize that. We look forward to hopefully never using these trailers.”

Alberta agriculture minister Verlyn Olson said the trailers are an important part of ensuring Alberta’s good animal welfare record.

“It’s the right thing to do for the sake of animal welfare and it’s the right thing to do for the sake of protecting our industry.”

The trailers followed the prototype built by Red Deer County in 2008 after offiicials realized they didn’t have the right equipment in livestock accidents.

“We wanted to protect the people, the first responders and the animals and we didn’t have the tools to do that,” said Art Preachuk, the county’s agricultural fieldman.

“It was always a challenge and a panic to try and find someone who could help with the animals.”

Baird said federal and provincial funding for the project will also be used for training first responders and making police and emergency crews aware the trailers are available.

AFAC chair Heini Hehli said he could have used the unit last year when the roof of his dairy barn collapsed and he needed to move his cattle to a temporary location.

“You can have the most equipped trailer, but you don’t know what to do with it, how would you apply it in the case of an accident?” he said.

“A lot of people don’t have connection to animals and how they behave. Animals in an accident will behave a lot different than animals in a pasture.”

AFAC hopes money will also be available next year to buy and equip more trailers for other areas of the province.

The location of this year’s trailers was based on RCMP accident statistics.

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