Fire service charges for large animal rescue could put horses and owners at risk *H&H Plus*

  • Plans to charge owners of horses rescued by one fire brigade have come to fruition. H&H finds out more about the new situation, and speaks to experts in rescue and welfare to find out what they believe the impact could be...

    CHARGES for large animal rescue by a fire service could have consequences – as it is feared owners who cannot afford to pay could put themselves at risk attempting to help their horses.

    Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) announced last year it was looking at how it responded to incidents and held a public consultation as part of their “Making Surrey Safer” plan for 2020–2023. During the consultation, Surrey County Council announced the council and SFRS may charge for some services such as animal rescue.

    From April 2020, a large animal rescue by SFRS costs an owner a flat rate of£618.12. The fee is payable within 30 days of the rescue.

    An SFRS spokesman told H&H callers will be told of the charge before crews are sent out, and if they cannot afford it, they will be advised to call the RSPCA or other charity. Insurance providers NFU Mutual, SEIB, KBIS, and Petplan told H&H the fire service charge would not be covered in their equine policies.

    Asked whether there were concerns owners could attempt potentially dangerous rescues themselves if they could not afford to pay, the spokesman said: “The role in protecting the public is fundamental to the fire service, and we will always provide an appropriate response to an emergency situation. It is always a concern if members of the public are at harm, regardless of the underlying cause.”

    The spokesman said if an incident occurred such as a road traffic collision involving a horse and/or horsebox, the response from SFRS would be determined by the nature and scale of the incident – and would be treated as an emergency, which is not chargeable. He added SFRS will “always” provide a response when someone is at risk – but when H&H asked if helping a horse to its feet, or rescuing from a ditch was considered an emergency, an answer was not provided.

    Steve Foye, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) animal rescue practitioners forum, told H&H each fire service is required to consider the risk in its geographical area and establish an integrated risk management plan and “appropriate arrangements” for delivery of services to the public.

    “These services will be based on assessment of risk and in support of the services’ statutory duties,” he said, adding there is no explicit duty for a service to undertake animal rescue.

    An RSPCA spokesman told H&H the charity is “aware of the changes” at SFRS and has an agreement with the NFCC that the charity can still request the help of fire services across England – including SFRS even if an owner cannot pay – should they need it.

    “We only call on these services when we absolutely need to and are always incredibly grateful for the help from fire services. There are circumstances when they have equipment and expertise necessary to help save animals in desperate need of rescue.”

    The spokesman added the RSPCA has specialist water rescue teams and equine officers – but they are a small number of people spread across large areas with “minimal equipment”.

    Tony Tyler, deputy chief executive at World Horse Welfare told H&H SFRS’s decision is “understandable” – but added there will “no doubt be consequences”.

    “Some owners may be unable or unwilling to pay, and may even attempt rescue themselves which could put both horse and owner at risk,” he said.

    “Charities, who already rely on these services, will likely be called to more incidents and bear these costs too. We are always grateful we have such highly skilled animal rescue specialists we can rely on and hope charging doesn’t change that position as this is a vital service.”

    Helen Hanly, the owner of amare who was helped to her feet by SFRS last year when she was unable to get up, told H&H she was shocked to hear of the new charge.

    “It would be tragic if someone can’t afford to pay and their horse had to be put to sleep. We’re in the middle of such uncertain times, even if the cost was half it would be more palatable,” she said.

    Jim Green, director of The British Animal Rescue and Trauma Care Association (BARTA), the national coordinating body for incidents involving animals, told H&H the organisation is piloting a new training package for emergency services in response to national guidance within the fire and rescue service which highlights the impact animals might have at an operational incident.

    “BARTA consult with emergency services to identify specific skills that they might benefit from and work with partners to provide training so that they can help resolve animal rescues in the safest possible way,” he said

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