The Norman Transcript

October 5, 2013

Norman firefighters and other first responders receive pet aid training

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman firefighters gave chest compressions and breathed air into the “lungs” of a furry CPR dummy on Friday as they received new training to deal with animals while responding to calls.

Firefighters and several other first responders in the area took advantage of the Basic Animal Rescue Training (BART) course at the Norman Fire Department Training center on Friday. BART is a non-profit organization that helps train first responders be better prepared to handle animals if they are present when responding to calls.

“Whenever we take medical patients and they’ve got dogs left in their apartment, they want them crated up. Sometimes it’s difficult because the dog is scared and they don’t know what you’re doing to their owner. They don’t know why you’re there so it’s hard to get them contained,” said Norman firefighter Justin Paterson.

There were three stations set up for the training session including a handling and restraining station, a resuscitation station and a station to help first responders learn how to check the heart rate and breathing of animals.

The first responders who attended the training are provided with a kit for their station to use which includes restraining tools and medical kits to treat animals.

“The hardest part is that we don’t know that until we’re there and if we don’t have that kit with us — I mean it’s still helpful to kind of be mindful of how to approach the animal and maybe use stuff around us like blankets, or like she (one of the trainers) said, pillow cases” Paterson said.

Different techniques and tools were shown during the training for cats and dogs. Some items, like a mesh bag typically used for cats, could also be used for other household pets like rabbits, guinea pigs or reptiles, said BART trainer Ellorie Liljequisti.

There were even manual techniques for handling animals, including grabbing a cat by the scruff, which doesn’t hurt them, Liljequisti said, as well as holding on to a dog’s legs and placing your forearm on their neck.

“Our main focus is handling and restraint and keeping firefighters and the public safe,” trainer Dr. Ann Burt said. “We’re really here for the firefighters and first responders and for the community.”

There were two CPR dummies, a dog and a cat, at the resuscitation station where first responders learned what it would feel like to give mouth-to-mouth to an animal. They also learned the best areas to give chest compressions on a cat or dog.

The medical-based station taught responders where they can look for the animal’s pulse and what a normal heart rate is for a cat or dog. There also were some signs to look out for when an animal might have breathing problems, such as a cat panting, since cats do not pant to cool off like dogs do.

Norman firefighter Chad Humphrey said medically, animals are low on the priority list when responding to fire scenes, but if resources permit and they have the training they can go that extra mile.

“For some people that’s their children, you know, that’s their kid,” Humphrey said.

Wendy Trefethren, a volunteer assisting with the training courses, said there was a definite need for this training, especially during response to the tornadoes, but it also will be helpful during first responders’ day-to-day calls.

“Hopefully it will prevent people from running back in to get their pet (during a fire),” Trefethren said.

Maggie Shirk with the Oklahoma City Kennel Club, which sponsored the training, told a story she had heard about firefighters in Minnesota who responded to a medical call involving a man in a tractor trailer.

Shirk said when the fire department got to the scene, the man wouldn’t let them touch him and kept asking, “Where’s my Josie?” At first they thought he was talking about a person, but then realized he was talking about his dog who they found under the cab of the overturned tractor.

“He wouldn’t let them touch him in anyway until they got the dog out,” Shirk said.

Once they did get the dog out she looked fine, but they had gone through this training about two weeks before and realized something was wrong. So, they took her to an emergency animal hospital. The dog had internal bleeding, but their actions saved her life.

“The firefighter said the most rewarding day of his life was walking in the hospital and telling that gentleman his dog was doing OK,” Shirk said.

Training will continue throughout the weekend for firefighters, paramedics, law officers and members of the armed services.

For more information about BART, visit

Jessica Bruha