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Departments coordinate with ASPCA for cold-water rescue training

REDFORD - The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals now has a team of individuals who have expanded their disaster response capabilities, thanks to the Saranac Technical Rescue Team.

Representatives from the ASPCA Disaster Response Team joined members of the STRT and other local emergency responders for a three-day training session Feb. 6-8, spending more than 20 hours on the Saranac River. The joint training educated the rescue team on what to expect when encountering animals in rescue situations and showed ASPCA volunteers what dangers to expect in a real cold-water rescue scenario.

Donald G. Uhler, head of the Saranac Technical Rescue Team and chief of the Saranac Volunteer Fire Department, said the training it was important to point out dangers for rescuers in a swiftwater environment, "especially during the winter when everything changes."

"If you fall through the ice in a river, you've literally got seconds to orientate yourself to not only get to a shoreline or up onto the ice, but to orientate yourself to the current," emphasized Uhler. "You want to make sure you can get up onto the ice before you can be swept underneath it."

The partnership with the ASPCA, said Uhler, has taught him and members of his team the physiology of an animal is typically more able to sustain colder temperatures than a human, he said. Given that, an animal stands a higher chance of survival versus a human when falling through the ice, he said.

"That's why we tell people the best thing someone can do is call for help immediately and not attempt to try to rescue the animal on their own. They could become a victim and then the situation becomes even more cumbersome," said Uhler.

Allison Cardona, director of the ASPCA Disaster Response Team, said she has undergone swiftwater rescue training before, but not in a cold-water scenario. The partnership for last week's training helped her and members of her team better understand what happens when temperatures aren't as forgiving.

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