In Case of an Emergency: Veterinary Basics for First Responders

As the only certified Trauma Center in New England, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is well equipped to handle incoming emergencies for animals. The institution has recently begun offering informational training sessions for local emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and first responders on how to care for animals in emergency situations.

Heat stroke, exposure to toxic chemicals, seizures, and hemorrhages: local emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are trained as first responders to act quickly and appropriately. When it comes to animals, though, they are at a loss.

“When you think of caring for animals, the first person you think of is a veterinarian,” said John Schofield of the University of Massachusetts EMT Squad. “But when we enter an emergency situation, sometimes we are the ones who are given an animal who is suffering. There isn’t a veterinarian on the scene; it’s us. We need to know how to respond appropriately.”

Without any current training in Massachusetts, Schofield took decisive action. He put an email into  Cummings School—“I think it might have even been an info@ account,” he said—and several months later, the first first-responders training session was presented by Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, and Alex Lynch, BVS(Hons), MRCVS, veterinarians in Emergency and Critical Care at the Cummings School.

Dr. Rozanski covered CPR and basic life support for animals, as well as how to run a risk/benefit analysis on performing the procedure, while Lynch explained neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory assessments of distress, as well as safe handling and the use of back boards and stretchers during the half-day session.

“As paramedics,” Schofield explained, “we come across house fires where the fire department has rescued some animals and they need resuscitation. We’re not allowed to transport non-working animals in Massachusetts, so we need to know how to respond before someone else can transport the animal to a veterinarian.”

In particular, first responders need to know how to recognize and stabilize working dogs in distress, since these canines are at especially high risks for injury. Some of the most common problems—including what to do in the case of cardiac arrest, hemorrhages, burn wounds or smoke inhalation, spinal trauma, fractures, heat stroke, and exposure to toxicities like marijuana, antifreeze, and permethrin—were covered by Rozanski and Lynch.

Knowing the normal ranges of vital signs for animals and how to tell if an animal is in distress was something all of the participants agreed was helpful. The course was “very informative and worth the time,” according to special agent Edward Bradstreet of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston.

“The interest has been overwhelming,” Susan Brogan, director of continuing education and conference planning at the Cummings School, said. For more information on first-responder training sessions, contact vetceinfo@tufts.edu.