Whales, snakes and lizards: HFRS leads the way in animal rescue

Whales, snakes and lizards: HFRS leads the way in animal rescue

HFRS has become a leading authority, developing ground-breaking techniques, saving hundreds of animals & shaping international legislation
01 June 2016

In just a decade, Hampshire animal rescue has gone from being an afterthought to a leading authority that has developed ground-breaking techniques, saved hundreds of animals and even helped shape international legislation.

The man who oversees the Animal Rescue department, Jim Green, is now a recognised expert who has been called upon to speak at Buckingham Palace with Princess Anne, lecture at prestigious universities and support equestrian events at the London 2012 Olympics.

Since taking up the post, Jim has been involved in some clichéd firefighter scenarios - rescuing cats from trees and lifting cows out of ditches.

However, his adventures have also included attending a beached whale near Hayling Island and retrieving a 12ft Burmese python from a car parked at Southampton Common.

The dad of two said the role of animal rescue manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is perfect for him, having an agricultural background and a father who was also a firefighter based at Lyndhurst Fire Station.

Jim, 42, worked for nine years in the forestry industry across Britain, and did a stint in Australia, before returning to his home in the New Forest.

He said:

“When I look at where we are compared to 10 years ago it is amazing.

“People are looking to us for inspiration in this field, which is a testament to the effort everyone has put in.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have done. I feel passionate about the job and I know we make a big difference.

“It has become almost a life’s work, I am fortunate that no two days are the same and I love what I do.”

While work in this area had been going on since the early 1990s, it was in 2006 that Jim became the first full time animal rescue manager.

The team is now the UK-lead fire service in animal rescue, and has been key in developing new procedures and setting a standard that has seen it train vets, police forces and the Household Cavalry, as well as the vast majority of fire and rescue services.

In its arsenal are a fleet of specialist vehicles and training mannequins. There is also a field at the back of Lyndhurst Fire Station with damaged horse boxes, and ditches and pits for them to practice their skills.

Jim said:

“Our role is 80 per cent knowledge and 20 percent equipment.

"Animal rescues require good understanding of animal psychology and well as the people who are involved.

“Our department is in the unusual position of being involved in training and response, which gives us the advantage of constant operational experience.

“So much of our work has not been done before. There were no courses to go on.

“However, we have a wealth of experts we can learn new skills from.

“We worked closely with the British Veterinary Associations to develop techniques and approaches that focussed on the needs of safety for rescuers as well as the animal casualty.”

Jim and three other animal rescue advisors, Adrian Knight, Anton Phillips and Paul Rance, ensure the county has 24-hour coverage, and the team has attended more than 3,500 incidents in the past decade.

Memorable incidents include a house fire with a menagerie of 150 animals, the rescue of a monitor lizard, dealing with an aggressive badger trapped in a hole and catching a rogue rhea.

A dog trapped in a stair lift, a deer in the water close to Southampton’s Ocean Village and a car crash involving a petting zoo also make the list.

The most common incidents, though, involve horses, which for many people living in rural areas are, nowadays, much-loved pets instead of working animals. And it is equines that have provided Jim with two of the most challenging incidents of his career.

He attended a crash involving two lorries – one of which was carrying 10 polo ponies - on the A303 in July 2013. His team was able to rescue all seven that were still in a position to be saved.

He was also proud when his crew managed to remove three giant shire horses trapped in a bog in Basingstoke.

He said:

“People are so emotional where their animals are concerned.

“One of our challenges is to stop well-meaning people trying to intervene and getting hurt.

“People will jump in the water to try to save their dog, or get kicked trying to free a trapped horse. We bring compassion to the situation but not emotion.

“Our work is not just about helping animals; it is about human welfare and, in some cases, preventing the risk of serious injury; in others, improving their quality of life and protecting their livelihoods.

“The important thing to remember is that fire follows the laws of physics – animals don’t.”

Jim and the team have been visited by emergency services workers from all over the world and been called upon to speak at international events.

He has trained delegations from Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Turkey, Holland, Austria and Norway. 

He has recently returned from an advisory trip to California speaking on the subject.

The department has also featured on TV shows including Real Rescues, Countryfile, Animal 24:7, Inside Out and Newsround, and a recent photo of a horse rescue posted on Facebook attracted 1.26 million views in February this year.

Jim is also director and co-founder of the national group British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA).

He added:

“I don’t think this work will every really stop developing and we are part of a fantastic international community who are collectively working together.

“I think now we have laid the building blocks, we will look back in 10 years time and see major advances in rescue and trauma care of animals.”