Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fire Safety & Disaster Preparedness for Horses

With the recent death of 43 harness race horses and two grooms at a race track in Lebanon, Ohio. I thought I would repost this blog from September. In memory of those that were lost.......

Those of us that have grown up or spent any length of time in Southern California understand that wildfires are part of the cost of living in "paradise". Knowing what to do prior to a fire (wildfire or a barn stucture) or other disaster is paramount in saving lives, including those of your equine friends.

The NFPA states that the leading cause of structure fires in barns are due to heating equipment, followed by electrical distribution/lighting equipment, intentionally set fires and lastly lightning. Heat lamps are the leading heating equipment involved in these fires. Barn structure fires are more frequent in late winter, early spring months. 48% of barn structure fires occurred in the Midwest and 32% occurred in the south in 2002-2005 (Source: US Structure Fires in Barns, by Jennifer Flynn, NFPA, Quincy, MA 2008).

Noted fire expert Laurie Loveman states "There is no better way of protecting your horses than with either a wet or dry sprinkler system installed by a licensed fire protection systems installer. No matter how many alerting systems you install, if there's no one around to evacuate your horses within the first few minutes of the fire starting, their chances of escaping are very poor." "One thing you can do right away to make your barn more fire safe is to invite members of your local fire department to make a preplan of your property and your barn so they'll know what to expect if they're ever called in an emergency."
Disaster preparedness is important for all animals, but it takes extra consideration for horses because of their size and their transportation needs. During an emergency, the time you have to evacuate your horses will be limited. With an effective emergency plan, you may have enough time to move your horses to safety. If you are unprepared or wait until the last minute to evacuate, you could be told by emergency management officials that you must leave your horses behind. Once you leave your property, you have no way of knowing how long you will be kept out of the area. If left behind, your horses could be unattended for days without care, food, or water. To help avoid this situation, the Humane Society has prepared information and suggestions to help plan for emergencies.

Some Key Tips from the Humane Society are:
1. Prohibit smoking in or around the barn. A discarded cigarette can ignite dry bedding or hay in seconds.
2. Avoid parking tractors and vehicles in or near the barn. Engine heat and backfires can spark a flame.
3. Rodents can chew on electrical wiring and cause damage that quickly becomes a fire hazard.
4. Keep appliances to a minimum in the barn. Use stall fans, space heaters, and radios only when someone is in the barn.
5. Be sure hay is dry before storing it. Hay that is too moist may spontaneously combust. Store hay outside the barn in a dry, covered area when possible.
6. Keep aisles, stall doors, and barn doors free of debris and equipment.
7. Familiarize employees and horse handlers with your evacuation plans.
8. Also keep your barn's street address clearly posted to relay to the 911 operator or your community's emergency services. Be sure your address and the entrance to your property are clearly visible from the main road.
9. Familiarize your horses with emergency procedures and common activities they would encounter during a disaster. Try to desensitize them to flashlights and flashing lights.

Horse Evacuation: If it is safe for you to enter the barn, evacuate horses one at a time starting with the most accessible horses. Be sure to put a halter and lead rope on each horse when you open the stall door. Be aware that horses tend to run back into burning barns out of fear and confusion.
Blindfold horses only if absolutely necessary. Many horses will balk at a blindfold, making evacuation more difficult and time consuming. Never let horses loose in an area where they are able to return to the barn.

Know in advance where you can take your horses in an emergency evacuation. Make arrangements with a friend or another horse owner to stable your horses if needed. Place your horses' Coggins tests, veterinary papers, identification photographs, and vital information—such as medical history, allergies, and emergency telephone numbers (veterinarian, family members, etc.)—in a watertight envelope. Store the envelope with your other important papers in a safe place that can be quickly reached.

Keep halters ready for your horses. Each halter should include the following information: the horse's name, your name, your telephone number, and another emergency telephone number where someone can be reached. Resources such as can help with the locating of lost horses.

After the fire, be sure to have all your horses checked by a veterinarian. Smoke inhalation can cause serious lung damage and respiratory complications. Horses are prone to stress and may experience colic after a fire.

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