Just over 80 animal rescue and search team volunteers from Schuylkill County, Carbon County, Northampton County, Lehigh County and Berks County came together recently during an animal handling and rescue training event held outside the Kempton Fire Company.

The training exercise, which lasted a few days, was organized via the Penn State University's Agriculture and Farm Rescue (PSU AG Rescue) program and involved a conglomeration of volunteer organizations with the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team (PASART).

"As well as working together, the purpose of the joint exercise related to animal handling and using animal rescue rigging and related rescue apparatus," said organizer and trainer Jennifer Zajaczkowski, PSU AG Rescue.

In addition to animal handling, another key focus of the exercise involved animal rescue. This required volunteers to fully understand rescue rigging, ropes, anchors, pulleys, haul systems, bipod assembly, animal handlers, packaging procedures, security and safety.

Firefighters and rescue volunteers were given scenarios that included rescuing a horse from a tipped horse trailer and lifting an injured horse out of a deep pit. A 800-pound horse manikin was used in place of a real horse during the training to prevent injury to a real horse.

During the exercise, rescue volunteer had to switch roles during the rescue. "This exercise helped us respect what each other does," said Pat Clemens, Tamaqua, of Valley Search and Rescue out of Schnecksville. "We focused on what each other does and to give knowledge of what we might not know."

"Some of the little things you don't even think of during an animal rescue are usually the most important," added Clemens. "Unless you did that, you wouldn't know. We really learned a lot. It was really fascinating. " Two tips include: Never get in front of horse's leg when it is down. That is its kick zone. And never be on your knees when working on animals, as you must be fast to get away in case the animals thrashes around.

"Believe it or not, the hardest part is putting the animal back on the ground," said Zajaczkowski, referring to the unpredictable nature of animals following a stressful situation. "Many animals remain in 'flight or flight' mode during a rescue."

"Many volunteers are needed to work the ropes," said Clemens, who stressed manpower and communication are very important during animal rescue operations. "It is phenomenal how many people you need for a horse rescue of that type."

"We break in the basics at first, then add the obstacles," added Zajaczkowski.

"I've always loved animals," said Frank Beckett, of Carbon County Animal Rescue Response Team (CART). Frank, along with his wife, Michele, also a CART member, took part in the multi-day exercise. During their lifetime, they've owned goats, chickens, dogs; and even a retired barrel racer. "We actually used this training to help rescue a horse a few weeks ago in East Penn Township. "The horse survived."

"It was great learning to work with firefighters during an exercise," said Beth Bialek, Delano, of Schuylkill County Animal Response Team (SCART). "The training was invalueable."

The program received funding from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.