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Training teaches about making a plan for crashes involving livestock

J. K. Shearer, a professor and Extension veterinarian at Iowa State University, presents about humane euthanasia at a training session in Steele, N.D., on Dec. 13, 2017. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 2
Deputy state veterinarian Beth Carlson presents about livestock crashes to emergency responders, veterinarians, public officials and others in Steele, N.D., on Dec. 13, 2017. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service2 / 2

STEELE, N.D. — When the Steele Volunteer Fire Department had to respond to a crash involving a truck pulling a livestock trailer a few years back, things were a little chaotic.

"Nobody knew what to do," said Joel Dewitz, a cattle producer and volunteer fireman. The crash happened about half an hour before dark. "We weren't smart enough to get our lighting set up in advance to take on the dark."

First responders also didn't realize what they'd need to respond to the crash — like chains, ropes, corral panels and saws to cut through aluminum trailers.

"After we got everything taken care of, we still had a lot of questions," Dewitz said.

To help fire crews, ambulances, veterinarians and other officials prepare for rollovers of semis pulling livestock trailers, the Kidder County Extension Office hosted a Bovine Emergency Response Training on Dec. 13 in Steele, one of four similar trainings held in central North Dakota during the week.

Lisa Pederson, Beef Quality Assurance specialist with North Dakota State University Extension and the Dickinson Research Extension Center, said the training is part of an effort in which NDSU Extension has been involved to provide a standard protocol for responding to crashes involving cattle being transported.

The development of the Bovine Emergency Response Plan was funded through the National Beef Quality Assurance program using Beef Checkoff funds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Smith-Level Special Needs Grant, and extension services at NDSU, West Virginia University, Iowa State University and the University of Tennessee. The training has been put on about 30 times in 14 states and previously was presented in Fargo. Pederson said other recent trainings were in Rugby, Ellendale and Buffalo.

Penny Nester, NDSU Extension agent for Kidder County, said there have been three rollovers of semis hauling cattle in the past seven years in Kidder County. Plenty of cattle are hauled through the county, both on Interstate 94 and on Highway 3, a route that trucks hauling cattle into the U.S. from Canada often take. Nester said Kidder County's crashes haven't been on the interstate, but responders are training for the possibility.

"It seems like we have really narrow roadways right here, and we're just in that hot spot where accidents seem to happen," she said.

Dewitz and the Steele Fire Department requested the training be brought to Kidder County.

"This is one of those topics that extension enjoys because it is a topic that came from the people in the community," Nester said.

Speakers covered a variety of topics related to crashes, including protocols for who does what, assessing the scene, containment, getting cattle out of trailers, humane euthanasia and disposal of cattle, relocation of cattle, debriefing of responders and more.

Pederson said containment is a big part of the training. It's important to have some sort of panels or containment system set up before releasing animals from a trailer. That's for the safety of first responders and the safety of the public. There have been cases where loose animals from one crash cause another, she said.

"Our real goal in this subject is that all first responders go home alive at the end of the day," she said. "Even though we may have a bad accident, we don't make it worse. We make the best of a bad thing."

Beth Carlson, deputy state veterinarian for North Dakota covered issues related to containing animals and how to approach international loads and cases when cattle may be coming from an area with health risks. J. K. Shearer, professor and extension veterinarian at Iowa State University, covered humane euthanasia and triaging of animals involved in crashes.

Pederson said debriefing is covered to account for the toll such situations can take on responders, a topic Shearer also touched on.

"They're hard for me to do. They're hard for everyone to do," Shearer said about livestock euthanasia. "It gets to you sooner or later."

Dewitz said the crashes with animal death and euthanasia haven't been big problems for his fire department, which features a number of ranchers like Dewitz. Crashes with human losses are much harder, he said.

"I think it's probably easier for us ranchers than it is for people who aren't around livestock," he said.

He encouraged other emergency crews to consider participating in the training.

"There's a pretty fair chance it's going to happen in your area," he said. "When it comes and you aren't prepared for it you're in for quite a shock."