Exactly one week after the exercises with the new rescue equipment, we received a call to respond to assist with a Clydesdale that had fallen off the edge of a cliffside trail into King's Canyon, west of downtown Carson City. The horse crashed through several trees before landing between boulders in Kings Creek. From what we could see, the trees, the horse's saddle and pure luck prevented this from being a fatal landing. (I looked up and saw the horse's lead rope some 50 feet above me snagged on tree branches.)
First look at "Zed," the Clydesdale.
SFC Michael Connell took command of the technical large animal rescue operation that was carried out through incredibly well coordinated teamwork of the Carson City Fire Dept., Carson City Search and Rescue, a couple of members of the Carson City Sheriff's Office and Carson City Public Works, two veterinarians on scene and LRTC volunteers.
A veterinarian is preparing to administer sedation and large bore IV fluids.
Padding the rocks as Zed would occasionally struggle.
This was the most technically challenging horse rescue that perhaps all of us had ever encountered. The creek was littered with boulders. Fallen tree branches had to be cut away from the horse. Zed (and rescuers) were in very cold water, and there was little room to employ conventional means to upright the horse. Additionally, this was not an incident where Zed could be lifted out by helicopter, even if one was available.
Some of the branches Zed landed on and/or brought down with him.
Carson City Fire cut a number of branches away using a battery powered Black and Decker saber saw. This tool was incredibly useful as it got the job done much more safely and quietly than a chainsaw. Both "safety" and "quiet" were important considerations since many branches had to be cut just a few inches from Zed's ears.
One of the people on-scene donated the use of a bra to protect Zed's eyes while work was being undertaken upslope from the horse. His upward facing ear was filled with cotton to prevent wood chips and other debris from falling into his ear.
Immediate workspace cleared. A bra protecting Zed's eyes.
The next challenge was to get lifting straps around the huge horse. The creek bed was strewn with rocks. It took a little finesse with various tools, and in a couple of instances pry bars and a great deal of muscle, to get rocks out of the way on both sides of Zed so that straps could be threaded underneath him.
One boulder and smaller rocks removed. One strap in place.
The only lifting device that would fit in the creek bottom was a monopod. The monopod was securely anchored in the creek with an anchor stake driven between the rocks and by ropes to a nearby rock and tree.
Rigging the Becker Sling to the lifting line.
Bringing the monopod up into position to lift Zed.
Zed reportedly weighed 2,300 Lbs. While the lifting system freed the horse from the rocks so that he could rest on his sternum, it was not possible to completely lift Zed. Having by this time lain on his right hind leg in icy water for several hours, he did not have sufficient sensation to stand on his own. After many repeated attempts at getting the horse up, it was time to consider other options.
(From this point on there was not sufficient time to stop and snap photos.)
After weighing various options, a decision was made to build a slide and slide Zed down the creek to a trail accessible by vehicles. This operation required several coordinated steps.
First Zed had to be moved onto a Rescue Glide. Doing so was not an easy task as this was an incredibly heavy horse and the Rescue Glide is designed for the more typical size horse. Nonetheless this transition was completed successfully.
Utilizing the creek required the relocation of many boulders scattered along the creek as well as removing a number of tree branches. Some spaces between relatively flat boulders were filled with short lengths of logs cut from nearby dead trees. Two fiberglass slide panels were employed "round robin" style to maintain a sliding surface for the Rescue Glide to move over.
Sliding a Clydesdale down a boulder strewn narrow creek is not as easy as it sounds. It took a dozen or more men to pull Zed, but at the same time the horse's descent down the creek had to be controlled. While there were some portions where a strong pull by two rope teams was necessary, there were other portions where the horse would tend to pick up speed as the Rescue Glide slid past a mound or large smooth boulder.
The lower portion of the rescue was complicated by a concrete and chain link fence water agency control and diversion cage that completely straddled the creek. The space alongside the cage was narrow and contained a couple of large boulders. Carson City FD deployed a number of shoring panels from its technical rescue truck to make a plywood chute that the Rescue Glide could slide along.
This was a fairly long "alley" to contend with, having a concrete vault and chain link fence on one side and very thick trees and brush on the other. As Zed was dragged, plywood from the uphill side of the horse had to be lifted and passed down over the horse to be added to the downhill side of the "chute."
Once Zed was past the cage, a plywood ramp was laid out and the Rescue Glide with the horse attached slid onto the sandy Jeep trail.
After a short period of time Zed stood up on his own and walked, albeit quite stiff and sore, down the Jeep trail to where he was loaded onto his trailer.
Zed will likely require intense follow-up veterinary care due to the possible aftereffects of hypothermia and having been on his side for well over seven hours. We were informed that he is receiving around-the-clock supervised care at Comstock Veterinary Hospital.
The LRTC Volunteers were dispatched at 12:38 PM. We returned home after 10:00 PM. I'm not sure how long the extrication actually took but we were working in the creek for at least six hours.
Note added: After a complete examination and hours of observations, a determination was made that Zed had suffered significant internal injuries as a result of his fall and the difficult decision was made to euthanize the horse.
Post incident comments:
- This incident illustrated the importance in these types of incidents for initial responders to focus on securing the scene and waiting for the appropriate technical rescue equipment and competent personnel to arrive before attempting serious rescue operations.
- These kinds of rescues take time to deploy and especially with animals trapped in cold water, hypothermia can become an issue. Carson City officials wasted no time deploying resources and calling for specialized help once they recognized the scope of the problem.
- This incident illustrated the importance of utilizing the Incident Command System (ICS) for incidents involving multiple agencies. Rescuers were assigned to positions based on their skill sets, not their affiliation with any particular agency or organization. Everyone worked effectively as a unified team.
- Carson City Fire Department was found to be very effectively equipped and fire personnel performed very proficiently under very difficult and unusual conditions. The department's esprit d'corps is obvious and commendable. The Battalion Chief who was incident commander clearly maintained authority over the operation but allowed the technical people the latitude that they needed to do an effective job.
- Trapped horses can be dangerous. Massive trapped Clydesdales can be extremely dangerous. Scene and personnel safety, as well as protection of the animal, were paramount factors in planning and operations. Two levels of safety control were employed: overall incident safety and technical rescue safety, with appropriate persons being assigned wherein safety was their primary responsibility.
- The Carson City Sheriff's Search and Rescue unit was very effectively deployed, providing many essential services including scene security, shuttling equipment from staging areas to the incident location, helping move boulders and other obstructions and providing a lot of assistance on the haul lines.
- This incident illustrated the importance of having specialized technical large animal rescue equipment available in this region, having someone qualified direct complex large animal incidents and train volunteers and public safety workers in TLAER operations, and the actual delivery of that training so that career and volunteer rescuers can effectively facilitate operations specific to large animal rescue.
- It was critically helpful that the horse's owners, obviously upset by the accident, allowed rescuers to do their jobs without interfering.
Ordinarily this type of situation under these conditions would have been an impossible "save." Proper equipment, training and scene teamwork resulted in this horse being able to stand up and walk to his trailer. After working in this field for nearly 40 years, this was by far the most technically difficult large animal rescue that I have ever been involved with. In spite of the difficulties presented, it was by far the best organized with respect to producing effective rescue operations.