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The HEAT is on

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Jeffco group quietly helps large animals during wildfires, emergencies

By Daniel Laverty

Firefighters and emergency workers usually are the first thanked after devastating wildfires or crises, but countless other people and groups often go unnoticed.
That’s just fine with Scott Halladay and his volunteer Jeffco HEAT rescue team.
Jeffco HEAT, which stands for Horse Evacuation Assistance Team, has been helping rescue large animals — everything from horses to llamas, and one time, even an ostrich — during Colorado emergencies for more than a decade.
 “When we get called in, we go to work,” said Halladay, who works on the Jeffco Emergency Management Team.
Halladay wanted to form an effective, well-trained group that not only knew how to rescue animals but had basic wildfire, first-aid/CPR and radio communication skills.
“It’s not just about going in and saving animals,” he said. “My team knows how fires react and behave. My crew is going to be an asset, not a liability.”
Since 2000, Jeffco HEAT has rescued more than 2,500 animals, working with Animal Control, the Jeffco Incident Management Team, the Colorado State Animal Response Team and local fire departments.
The group started when the Hi Meadow Fire erupted near Bailey in 2000, and Halladay sprang into action.
 “HEAT started out as just me being a concerned citizen,” Halladay said. “I called up the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office and said, ‘I have a trailer. What can I do to help?’”
Halladay, his wife Janice and his stepdaughter, Lisa Lockamy, gathered animals in the evacuated area and brought them to the Halladays’ home on Shadow Mountain.
 “We took pictures and documented each animal,” he said. “That was the beginning of Jeffco HEAT.”

A helping hand
Jeffco HEAT’s 22 members are about as eclectic as a real family.
 “We have a massage therapist, a dental hygienist and a retired brain surgeon,” Halladay said of a few of his members. “(But) everyone jumps in and participates.”
In June, Jeffco HEAT joined other animal evacuation teams across the state and assisted in rescuing 672 animals in the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs.
“I’ve only worked in one large incident, the Black Forest Fire,” said HEAT member Dave Judson. “Seeing the destruction of people’s homes and lives has a significant impact on us. You see yourself in each burned-out neighborhood.”
Judson joined the group in July 2012 after the Lower North Fork Fire.
“Jeffco HEAT gave me an opportunity to help animals and their owners,” said Judson, who is a retired volunteer firefighter and farmer. “I understand the emotional impact of leaving your animals behind or not being able to go back for them after an evacuation.
“I believe what we do helps people by reducing the urge to go in and get an animal in an unsafe situation.”

When duty calls
Jeffco HEAT members communicate by phone, e-mail and text when a possible emergency is on the horizon.
“We don’t cross any lines or do anything until we’re called,” Halladay said.
Once the request has been made, the team assembles and gets instructions on where to meet since Animal Control has started setting up its own command center during major wildfires. Animal Control then sends Jeffco HEAT and other animal rescue groups to retrieve animals.
 “Because of our fire training and experience with large animals, we can safely enter an active fire area and evacuate animals left behind,” Judson said.
Animals usually are taken to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds during evacuations. After a rescue, HEAT members radio the fairgrounds to notify workers there of how many and what kind of animals are being transported, so fairgrounds staff can have handlers ready.
 “There’re still a lot of bugs in our system,” Halladay said. “But we’re working everything out. So far, it’s been successful.”

Always training
The group’s monthly training on July 28 was with Rob Savoy from Timberline Fire Protection District in Gilpin County, who taught a refresher course on tying knots with ropes and on rappelling at the Mountain View Park-n-Ride.
“We’ll start on an easy slope, then rappel off of a steeper slope,” Savoy told members.
HEAT volunteers used ropes and harnesses to scale down a mountain and rescue a dummy horse that weighed and was the size of a normal horse.
The all-volunteer organization uses donations to provide each member with equipment to do their animal-saving jobs. Halladay estimates that it costs approximately $1,100 to “dress” a member.
 “We rely on donations and grants to keep going,” Halladay said. “Nothing we wear or do is cheap. I have to make sure that my team has fire-resistant clothing.”
Halladay said many local organizations have helped out in huge ways such as the Conifer Safeway, which never hesitates to donate food and water during emergencies.
 “Safeway always has sandwiches, water and Gatorade for us,” Halladay said. “It’s amazing how this community comes together during an emergency.”
Even though Jeffco HEAT may not get the credit and thanks it deserves, being able to save animals is thanks enough.
 “The opportunity to work and train with this group with the goal of rescuing animals and helping our neighbors is an honor,” Judson said.

Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1043. Follow him on Twitter at @LavertyReports. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.