The inspiration for The Basic Animal Rescue Training program came to veterinarian Janet Olson in response to a sad event.
One day her husband, a New Brighton firefighter, received a call to go to a house fire that was consuming a fellow firefighters home. The homeowner begged his co-workers to try to save his 13-year-old German Short-haired pointer named Bart. The dog was trapped in the laundry room of the burning home.
"The firefighters arrived on the scene that day and they were able to put out the fire and they were able to locate Bart and get him out of the home. But by the time they got him out he was un-responsive," she says. "The firefighters just didn't have the skills or the equipment necessary to be able to to be able to help and revive Bart. And Bart died that day."
Olson says she and her husband decided to work together to develop the rescue program in Bart's memory.
The two-hour BART course teaches firefighters to safely restrain and handle animals that may be frightened or aggressive. They also learn to assess an animal's injuries, perform basic first aid, and give CPR and oxygen support. At the first training station the firefighters treat a realistic-looking dog dummy. But they work on real live cats and dogs at the second and third training stations.
Each fire company receives a free medical kit from the BART program that includes animal oxygen masks, muzzles, snares, eye wash and antibiotic ointment. The kit also contains dog and cat treats to help firefighters lure frightened animals who may be hiding under couches or beds.
Deputy Minneapolis Fire Chief Charlotte Holt, who's in charge of Emergency Medical Services has volunteered her chocolate lab Bailey, for training. The firefighters use Bailey to learn how to take a pulse on a live dog.
Holt says this program is not designed to put pets before people.
"The bottom line is a firefighter is going to do what they can when they can. We're not trying to make them primary responders to pet emergencies," she says. "But certainly they encounter pets that are injured in the course of their normal duties. When they do we want to be able to give them some skills to make a difference."
Janet Olson says the one year-old program has already helped some animals. Last Christmas Eve a dog in North St. Paul firefighters found a dog trapped in a house fire.
"They arrived on the scene and they were able to get the dog out of the fire but he had suffered from smoke inhalation and was not doing very well," she says.
An Emergency Medical Technician working with the fire crew had gone through the BART training and was able to treat the dog as they transported him to an emergency vet in Oakdale.
"And by morning the animal was stabilized and was able to be reunited with his family on Christmas day," Olson says.
The BART program is funded by private donations and the training and equipment are provided free of charge. Each kit costs the organization about $500.
There are plans to train fire departments in St. Paul, Bloomington, Maple Grove and Waseca.