Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Snakes, cats and cattle rescued by Cumbria firefighters

Snakes in walls, cattle in slurry and even cats stuck up trees are among the 100-plus animal rescues carried out by firefighters in Cumbria.

Trapped dog photo
Flint the pointer dog was trapped in a trampoline

Figures reveal the domestic, commercial and even wild animals which have been helped in the line of duty.

Across Cumbria there were 116 animal rescue incidents between April 1 2012, and November 30, 2013. This involved 40 domestic animals, 69 livestock, and seven wild animals – including a horse, deer and wildfowl.

The information provided by Cumbria County Fire and Rescue Service, after a Freedom of Information request, does not specify exact details of each incident but instead groups them into types of animal rescue incident and type of animal.

Of the 116 incidents, almost two in every five – 11 domestic pets and 34 livestock – was to an animal trapped in mud or water. Watch manager Stuart Hook said it was this type of rescue that could be the most difficult for firefighters.

“A lot of our calls are to cattle in slurry,” he said, “which is probably the most dangerous incident we get called to.

“There was an incident in Northern Ireland 18 months ago in which a father and his two sons – one of whom was an Ulster rugby player – died. They died trying to save each other.

“Once you interrupt slurry it releases lots of poisonous gases.”

In the wake of that tragedy in September 2012, fire services across the UK issued additional guidance to crews and new guidelines.

Mr Hook added: “We must now wear breathing apparatus and do a more in-depth risk assessment.

“Unless it is people inside the slurry, we are not allowed to enter it unless we know it is completely safe to do so.”

Some of the more routine animal rescues – such as horses trapped in mud or cattle in ditches – are often not even dealt with by the fire service, as farmers can do the job more quickly.

“What often happens is somebody might report some cows stuck somewhere, and we even have to put on body armour to deal with it,” Mr Hook said.

“Farmers deal with this day in and day out, so by the time we have put on the armour and set up the equipment the farmer could have thrown a rope around it and pulled it out.”

There were five rescues of animals from below ground, three rescued “from height” and 16 cases were a heavy animal needed to be lifted.

Throughout his career Mr Hook said he has seen some weird and wonderful sights: from the dog stuck on a trampoline to a snake wedged behind cupboards.

He admitted that the old stereotype of a call to a cat stuck up a tree is still one they receive.

“We often tell people that there is a reason you never see a dead cat or a skeleton up a tree,” Mr Hook said, “and that’s because they always get down. We tend to pass those calls onto the RSPCA.”

It is the rescues involving domestic pets that are a firefighter’s most satisfying job.

“For some people, their pets are members of their own family,” he added. “When you reunite an animal with its owner they are really grateful, and it is usually a story with a happy ending.”

Cumbria’s assistant chief fire officer, Adrian Buckle, said: “We deal with a wide variety of emergencies and are often the only emergency service with the appropriate skills and equipment.

“As you’d expect in a rural county like Cumbria, livestock make up a significant proportion of the animal rescues we carry out – with this rescue capability providing an important service to our farming communities.”

However, he appealed to animal owners across the county to help reduce unnecessary call-outs by ensuring where possible that their pets are safe.


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