Veterinarians training to be disaster-ready

Veterinarians training to be disaster-ready

16 January 2012

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Australia — The territory’s sheep, cattle and horses are often the forgotten victims of the tragic 2003 Canberra bushfires.

The devastating firestorm killed thousands of head of livestock, as flames tore through suburbs and properties in the ACT and its immediate surrounds.

About 4000 sheep, 150 cattle and 35 horses were either killed in the blaze or were later put down, according to figures from the now decommissioned Bushfire Recovery Taskforce.

Now, as the ninth anniversary of the fires approaches, a handful of local veterinarians are being trained to better care for animals trapped in the path of deadly bushfires.

About 20 vets, who work with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, took part in a specialised training program yesterday, learning how to work on a fire scene, and how to assess and care for fire-affected animals.

The training, which has been conducted every year since 2003, was led by Territory and Municipal Services firefighters and the ACT’s Chief Veterinary Officer Will Andrew.

”After 2003, we had to do a lot of recovery for burnt animals, and we didn’t have enough vets to do it,” Dr Andrew said.

”Vets from Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, volunteered to help us at that time, and that’s the foundation of what we do today,” he said.

The training is particularly important this year, according to Dr Andrew, due to the elevated threat of fast-moving grass fires.

Authorities have forecast a severe grass fire threat for much of south-eastern Australia, due to substantial grass growth caused by higher-than-average rainfall.

Grass fires can move at speeds of over 20km/h, and Dr Andrew said they could often be deadly for livestock.

”If a fire races through long grass, you tend to get more stock mortalities associated,” Dr Andrew said.

”That’s why we’re putting a little bit more into the training this year, because of that potential being there,” he said.

The training teaches the vets about how to protect themselves in disaster zones. They learn to use firefighting safety gear, two-way radios, and how to work around firearms.

”Even though they’re vets, they’re not necessarily trained in the emergency response mechanism,” Dr Andrew said. ”It’s a little bit to do with what they do in the field, assessing stock, but also how you work within an environment of an emergency response,” he said.

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