The University of Florida is better known for its national champion football and basketball teams, but its College of Veterinary Medicine Disaster Response Team, known as "VETS," is well on its way to being a first class disaster response unit.
Besides having a deployable field hospital, much like a M*A*S*H unit for animals large and small, it has a large animal technical rescue team, with the capability of rescuing large animals by helicopter, in mud, in water, or below grade.
The core team members have all been trained by TLAER (Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue) Inc. in animal behavior as well as having been put through a variety of rescue scenarios. They respond tas both a statewide SART (State Agricultural Response Team) resource during disasters, and to be a community response unit within the five county around surrounding Gainesville for trailer accidents, horses in need of technical rescue, etc.. They are all volunteers, made up of staff, students, technicians, clinicians, and administrators.
The team leader, John Haven, who is also the college director, recognized the dangers of inserting his team members into a rescue environment. After the TLAER course in the spring, and after practice with the equipment this summer, including running some evolutions with Gainesville Fire Rescue, and Alachua County Fire Rescue, he decided the team was ready for advanced training.
He contacted Richard Wright, the president of Wright Rescue Solutions, and explained the desire to train the team to NFPA Structural Rope Operator Level standards as well as to have experts review the equipment configuration and system efficiency for hauling large animals.
Using human grade equipment - 1/2 inch and 5/8 inch ropes to raise and to lower animals weighing over 1,400 pounds means maximum system efficiency is a must as is careful analysis of the load on all points of the system to maximize the system safety factor. Additionally, Dr. Tomas Gimenez, chief instructor of TLAER Inc. joined the team training to contribute his experiences to optimizing the systems and present challenges to the team.
Over the course of the week long training, the team rappelled, raised, lowered, and studied mechanical advantage, and critical stress points of the systems. By the end, the team was smoothly working an A Frame three team device with two people per team, with a 600-plus pound horse dummy named "Fugley." The team has practiced with Mr. Haven's 1400 lb horse named "Shannon."
The team hopes to become a regular community resource in the coming months as well as to be recognized for its advanced capabilities and training. The team still has to work out the response protocols with the surrounding communities on how the team will be activated, and how communications during a response will be handled.
It is the intent of the team to operate through the county Incident Command System response structure. When hurricane season subsides, the team intends to send several of its members to swift water rescue training, to ensure their training is well rounded.
One of the unique features of being based at a college of veterinary medicine, is the students. Between the AAEP Student Chapter, and the Public Health Service Club, there are a large number of students interested in learned about veterinary disaster response, and large animal technical rescue. These students after graduation will become key resources in their communities to assist during emergencies. While many fire departments do have technical rescue teams, having a veterinary resource to work worth will help keep the responders and the patient safer. It is also the intent of the university team to begin to train more with surrounding fire departments, and other state SART response partners in the near future.