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Firefighters See 'Lucky' Way to Train for Worst-Case Rescues

Saving horses takes spotlight Friday at North Metro Training Center in Erie

By Joe Rubino
Posted in The Boulder Daily Camera 09/10/2010

lucky with Firefighters

The North Metro Fire Rescue District Training Center in Erie was home to a 400-pound dummy Friday afternoon.

That dummy, a life-sized plastic replica of a horse, affectionately known as "Lucky," helped 14 firefighters from communities across Colorado with specialized large-animal rescue training at the center Friday.

"I think it's been a good opportunity to get experience with a rescue that's not real common, but presents a safety risk to firefighters, the animal and bystanders," said Eric Young, a firefighter with the North Area Technical Rescue Team.

lucky being hoisted

Training exercises Friday, which was the last of three such training days at the center, included learning how to properly rig a harness to lift large animals, specifically horses, and safety procedures for dealing with animals that could potentially harm rescue personnel.

"This doesn't happen that often," said Shirley Hoffman, director of Horses Forever who collaborated with North Metro on the training efforts. "When it does it, is important to have people who are trained."

Horses Forever, based in Hygiene, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting horses through education. Hoffman, who owns "Lucky," said it is her goal to spread equine safety and rescue information to as many agencies as possible.

"We want the education to be free, so we work in that direction," she said.

Firefighters were versed in the use of a large animal lift, or LAL for short, Friday. The LAL can be place on an animal from the back, which keeps rescuers out of the path of dangerous flailing limbs.

While brand new LALs can cost as much as $2,000, Hoffman said a device with the same effect could be fabricated from scrap metal and pieces of old fire hose for closer to $200. North Metro training staff used a homemade LAL on Friday.

Hoffman was able to borrow a heavy-duty, air-lift capable "Anderson Sling" from Arvada-based Rocky Mountain Horse Rescue for Friday's training. So far it is the only such harness in Colorado.

That sling was used by North Metro personnel in 2005, when a horse name Chief fell into a covered pool on his owner's property. North Metro Capt. Rich Randall was on the scene that day. He said that is what motivated him to contact Hoffman about doing large-animal rescue training.

"Firefighters overcome and conquer as best they can," Randall said. "But this is something that requires specialized training and equipment."

Two live horses were at the training center Friday to demonstrate proper rigging techniques, but trainees were not able to perform any simulated lifts on the creatures because the ladder truck used for the training was only designed to hold 1,000 pounds. Full-grown horses typically weigh more than 1,200 pounds, Randall said.

"Lucky" would have to do for the purposes of Friday's training. Randall said there simply wasn't enough money to rent a crane or boom truck necessary to train with real animals.
Randall said the training brought out representatives from 10 to 12 fire departments, as well as representatives from several other public safety agencies.

Friday's turnout was the lowest of the three training sessions, but Randall said that is because of extra manpower needed to battle the Fourmile Fire still burning west of Boulder.