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How to Start a K-9 EMS Training Program


Has your agency ever considered installing emergency care protocols for working K-9s?

Richmond Ambulance Authority Lt. Caitrin Conroy talks about what she and Training Coordinator Daniel Linkins learned when they joined the Richmond (Va.) Police Department’s (RPD) K-9 unit in a two-day K-9 paramedic class. She said they learned how to transfer their existing human EMS skills to the K-9 patient.

Conroy says it was a “tremendously educational experience” and that she learned valuable “skills to disseminate among our medics.”

After completing the comprehensive two-day class, Conroy and Linkins began planning how to employ their new skills to benefit the K-9 community.

“We are excited to get this implemented as soon as possible, while being as thorough and attentive to detail as is possible.” Linkins explains, “It is a complicated process, even with all the support we are receiving from the police, public and all departments at RAA.”

To accomplish this goal, Conroy and Linkins have been working with RPD’s K-9 officers, medical staff at Richmond’s emergency veterinary clinic and RAA’s Operational Medical Director Joseph P. Ornato, MD. They also sought the advice and expertise of K-9 medic program director Jo-Anne Brenner, a pioneer in this new fieldBrenner’s skillset includes terrain experience from the Canadian Arctic to Hurricane Katrina, extensive tactical training, K-9 handling, EMT-I certification and membership in the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

Conroy says Brenner “created this K-9 medic program from nothing and continues to advance it.”

Prehospital Skills for Police Pups
After deciding which skills would be most beneficial to the local K-9s, Conroy and Linkins scaled Brenner’s two-class program down to a one-day event, shortening segments on harsher climates, search and rescue and poisoning. They instead focused on trauma, heat and other emergencies more likely to be encountered in Richmond’s urban setting.

Brenner teaches—and RAA officials stress the value in—hands-on muscle memory exercises and training to the conditions the providers are likely to encounter. Skills are taught to match the equivalent of the student’s human medical training. Among the topics covered are:

1. Safe handling and extrication;
2. Assessment, oxygenation;
3. CPR, bleeding control and splinting
4. Suturing;
5. Advanced and surgical airway management;
6. IV, intraosseous and subcutaneous (SQ) infusions;
7. Environmental emergencies, and
8. Poisonings and prevention.

Already adept at the basic techniques, the RAA employees describe the change of patient from human to K-9 as challenging, interesting and with sharper teeth. With changes from scene safety considerations and the patient’s level of cooperation to anatomical differences, the K-9 trained medics agree it’s stimulating to encounter new situational challenges.

The anatomy is the most engrossing change. Examples of these anatomical changes and how they can change patient care include the conical shape of a dog’s leg can be an obstacle when applying tourniquets and bandaging, the shape of the dog’s nose when attempting to obtain a good bag-valve mask seal, and the thick skin and fur as the biggest difference when it comes to starting IVs.

K-9 skin is much thicker than that of a human and cut downs to gain access aren’t uncommon. The thick coat also makes the K-9 more susceptible to heat-related problems, which makes proactive, aggressive and early treatment ideal.

A major difference is the amount of SQ fluid a dog can receive compared to a human. 500 ccs of normal saline SQ is common practice as a preventative heat treatment, simple to administer and painless to the K-9.

Kits for K-9 Care
In addition to the training, each RAA supervisor unit and each RPD K-9 unit will receive a “K-9 kit.” These kits will contain supplies that would be most frequently accessed and administered; muzzles, IV supplies, bandaging and dressings, canine oxygen masks, decompression needles, razors and tourniquets.

“While the ambulances all carry the same equipment, we wanted easily transportable kits that were suited to a more tactical environment. In the event of an emergency, we as handlers can provide initial care until the scene is safe for paramedics to enter and take over,” RPD Master Patrol Officer Sammy Hernandez says.

“We hope for the best, but ensure we are trained and prepared for the worst,” Linkins says. In that mindset, Richmond Ambulance Authority is putting the finishing touches on a K-9 emergency care and treatment protocol. It’s also collaborating with Richmond’s emergency veterinary clinic and considering the need for a veterinary medical director (VMD) to assist with the advancement of the protocols and ensure seamless transition between ambulance and veterinarian staff.

When combined with proper training, the protocol will guide the EMTs and paramedics and serve as an always accessible reference, now that they can provide care to four-legged patients as well.

Brenner says she’s excited to team up with RAA. “So many things we take for granted in the human EMS field are completely new in the veterinary field because there is essentially no professional pre hospital care,” she says. “We are starting more formal studies in the hospital and out in the field to verify the effectiveness of the K-9 procedures and continually advance them.

“What a better match to bring this progressive emergency medical care to the forefront than with an organization that leads the pack in human emergency medical care,” she says.

Caitrin Conroy, NREMT-P, CCT, is a lieutenant and paramedic with Richmond Ambulance Authority. She has been employed there for four years. She started her EMS career in Michigan, which is where she was born and raised. Reach out to her at cconroy@raaems.org.


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