MILTON – Like most good ideas, Milton's Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue team started with a question.
"A woman came into the fire station one day in August 2008, and asked me how the department would handle a problem with an overturned horse trailer," explained Battalion Chief Bill Bourn, leader of Milton's TLAER team. "I didn't really have a good answer for her, because we had never dealt with that before."
From there, Milton became the only city in the state with its own crew capable of handling such an emergency. For Bourn, it only makes sense, given Milton's rural nature and the number of farms and stables in the surrounding area.
Currently, there are six members on the TLAER team – all firefighters – who have been trained in the rescue of large animals, be they horses or cows or donkeys. The team responds to emergency calls just like any other crew, however Bourn and his group will go to neighboring communities, usually armed with a crane, to help a stranded or injured animal.
According to Bourn, the TLAER team has responded to about 50 calls for help so far.
"The majority of our calls are older horses that have laid down and, for whatever reason, cannot get back up," explained Bourn. For such a call, the team puts the animal in a special sling and lifts it up, allowing the animal to rest a while and then helping it stay on its feet. If there is a medical problem with the animal, veterinarians will often accompany the team on a call.
But Bourn has had horses stuck in places they shouldn't be – such as a ravine, mud or a creek bed. During the extensive flooding several years ago, the team had a call in Sandy Springs to rescue 40 horses from a flooding stable.
Each member of the team must be specially trained, and there are two separate distinctions – operations and awareness. The operations level is the highest level available, and all six TLAER members are trained to that. The rest of Milton's fire department is trained to the awareness level.
The team uses specialized equipment for their rescues. The big items are an "A" frame, used as a crane, and a horse mannequin, specially ordered from England at a cost of $10,000, to practice on instead of live, sedated animals.
For those concerned about the costs of such a specialized team, they need not worry; the TLAER crew is entirely supported by donations.
"Not all of the taxpayers receive the benefits of this service," explained Bourn. "We needed to collect a lot of money to purchase the equipment needed." Instead of taking the year Bourn expected the fundraising to take, he was able to buy all his equipment in a few short months.
"We put the word out to the horse groups and the citizens and were met with an overwhelming response," Bourn said.