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Locals Train for Large Animal Rescues

EUREKA, Calif. -- A truck hauling a horse trailer swerves off the road, sending the trailer and the four horses inside down an embankment. With the trailer upside down in a ditch, the owners hurriedly call 911.

Situations like this happen every day. But in many communities across the country, 911 first responders -- including firefighters, sheriffs and police officers -- have little or no training in this type of large animal rescue.

But thanks to a weekend training session organized by McKinleyville horse owner Pamela Hinrichs and taught by Felton-based trainers Large Animal Rescue, a diverse group of locals are now certified by the state fire marshal in large animal rescue operations.

Horse owners, farriers and veterinarians joined law enforcement personnel, including firefighters, county sheriffs, park rangers and police officers, for the two-day training, held at the Humboldt County Agriculture Center on Saturday and Sunday.

"It's really important, bringing all these agencies together for one goal," Hinrichs said.

After an intensive eight-hour classroom session Saturday, students in the training course Sunday practiced rescue techniques using overturned horse trailers and life-size horse mannequins. The program was created by John and Debra Fox, who realized the need for such training while working as firefighters in Felton, a small town in the hills north of Santa Cruz.

"In our district, we had (large animal rescue) incidents we were going to -- one or two a year," John Fox said. He remembers one in particular: A horse fell down a hill and got trapped between a rock and a tree. When John Fox, who was fire captain at the time, offered help from the fire department, he was told there were plenty of people.

The rescue attempt failed, and the horse was later killed.

"Later we found out, yeah, they had people, but they didn't have a lot of equipment," he said. "We had all the equipment they needed."

So John and Debra Fox designed a rescue program that uses equipment already found on standard fire engines: Rescue straps, backboards, slips sheets, ropes and pulleys.

"The goal was to be able at any time, anywhere in the country, to take what's available," said John Fox. With his thumb, he gestured at a Fortuna fire truck. "That's available anywhere in the country."

With ten years of training under their belts, John and Debra Fox are now considered the top large animal rescue trainers in the country. It was Pamela Hinrich's efforts that brought them here.

"She's the one who's been instrumental in getting it all together," said Sharon Cahill, who owns Cahill Ranch with her husband, Gary.

Taking petitions to local businesses and organizations and even contributing some of her own money, Hinrich was able to organize the training, with help from North Coast Veterinary Services and Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue, among others.

"Having technical training, you're increasing the odds of a successful recovery," said local farrier Uri Driscoll.

Ryan Burns can be reached at 441-0563 orrburns@times-standard.com .

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