Firefighters undergo animal training at Shropshire's Harper Adams University

FIREFIGHTERS in Shropshire have been undergoing training at Harper Adams University to help them develop further skills for handling large animals in emergency situations.

About 40 Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service personnel have been taking part in a new, two-day Animal Handling course being run by Alan Stewart, a Senior Lecturer in Animal Production, Welfare and Veterinary Sciences at the university near Newport, Shropshire.

Firefighters from four watches at Wellington Fire Station, which is where a rescue tender fitted with specialist equipment for animal rescues is based, have undertaken the course giving them experience with a range of animals including horses, bulls, cows, sheep and pigs.

With Shropshire being a rural county, firefighters are often called upon to deal with situations involving animals, whether it is at the scene of an accident, at barn fires or as part of a rescue operation.

Animals can be difficult to handle in emergency situations and when they become scared pose a safety risk.

Dr Jim Huntington, who is also a Senior Lecturer in Animal Production, Welfare and Veterinary Sciences at the university and has been helping to train the firefighters, said gaining a better understanding of large animals could help prevent injuries to both people and the animals.

“The course addresses the major risks associated with handling large animals and also looks at the behaviour of a variety of different livestock,” he added.

“It aims to give them some animal handling skills in case of animal rescue, including loose animals resulting from a road traffic accident.

“The firefighters have been fantastic and have thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on contact with the animals. Their confidence has grown with each session.”

Rob Sheppard, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Animal Rescue Specialist, worked closely with the university to develop the course to improve the safety of firefighters, while also ensuring the animals are dealt with in a humane manner.

He said: “Being the large, rural county that it is, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is being called upon to attend an increasing number of incidents involving the rescue of large animals. In fact, in the last six months we have attended 11 large animal rescues.

“Large animal rescues present a wide range of hazards, from not only the distressed animal itself but possibly also from other animals in the locality, people and the environment itself.

“We believe that having awareness of both animal and human behaviour, supported by suitable animal rescue equipment and training, will play an important part at the scene of an incident.

“Animals in distress pose a potentially serious risk to the public, members of other agencies and to firefighters. For fire and rescue services public safety is paramount.”

Neil Griffiths, Station Manager at Shrewsbury, said the county’s fire service could be called to anywhere between 40 and 70 animal rescues a year.

“The service has to set priorities and protecting its crews is a key one, as well as recognising the needs of the community. We attend so many animal rescues we thought it was important to have this training,” he added.

“It fits really well that we have a local provider in Harper Adams. There are other methods of gaining this animal handling experience both within and outside of Shropshire but we were really keen to develop this relationship with Harper Adams.

“What struck me after completing the two days was how relevant the course has been structured to meet our needs. We have been made aware of practical safety around animals, which is crucial to protect our crews, owners, veterinarians and members of the public.

“Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, like many other public sector organisations, are facing large scale financial cuts and prioritising where money is spent is a key concern.

“Clearly being a rural community, animal rescue is a key service we offer and that’s why we have invested in the training and equipment.

“The equipment can be expensive and the service will be taking opportunities to showcase its capability at agricultural and equestrian shows in the future.

“If any individuals or companies would like to discuss how they could support this valuable service for Shropshire’s farming and equestrian community they should contact us on 01743 260200.”

The crews will now go on to complete a further two days of training at a venue in Tong which involves specialist rescue techniques and utilises new equipment such as a horse mannequin which can be placed in a variety of scenarios such as ditches, ponds, mud and slurry pits. These courses are led by the service’s animal rescue specialist trainers who are experienced and qualified to teach the nationally recognised techniques.


Sarah Swinnerton
Harper Adams University Press Office
Newport, Shropshire
01952 815291

Harper Adams University is the UK's leading specialist provider of higher education for the rural and land-based industries. Our mission is to deliver higher education and research for the delivery of a sustainable food chain and rural economy. To see how Harper Adams can help you, visit 


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Harper Adams University College is the UK’s leading provider of specialist higher education and research for the food chain, rural and land-based industries. Undergraduate, postgraduate and PHD subjects cover every aspect of food production, from agricultural engineering to food marketing, land management and animal health and welfare. For more information visit