SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — The Central Coast’s regional Horse Emergency Evacuation Team (HEET), officially founded as a nonprofit in 2003, is made up of, “a group of equestrians active in our community as well as ham radio operators,” said this year’s president Heidi Goetz.
The primer is helpful to understand what the group’s been up to as they enter their busiest time of year, fire season, as well as the role they play in large animal rescue.
For instance, accidents on Highway 101 involving a loaded horse trailer, or more specifically, a case two years ago involving the round up and emergency sheltering of 11 equines in California Valley. The SLO Sheriff’s office later took the animals’ owner into custody for neglect.
Since their founding the SLO HEET has established themselves as the go-to for Cal Fire, the Sheriff’s Office and the local California Highway Patrol for animal incidents, but they also host training programs that include integration with the Red Cross disaster services, incident command systems and their own large animal First-Aid courses. In fact, business cards for the organization include the vitals for an equine on the back. Just for reference, they run on average at least two degrees hotter than us bipeds.
Their training courses come in handy for first responders, but the group also stores specialized emergency lift equipment with Cal Fire and do their best to be available at a moment’s notice, which is why, when Goetz sends out the list of events they’re hosting through the rest of 2019, they’re all subject to cancelation if an emergency pops up in their coverage area.
Free of charge, except when they have to pay a teacher for first aid practiced on humans, they none-the-less would be grateful for donations, as that kind of fundraising is how they acquire equipment and supplies. Much of their activities take place out of the Wranglerette Arena in Atascadero, 7730 Argon Rd.
On July 13 it’s worth coming out to meet with Dr. Michael Lyon of the Large Animal Practice in Los Osos as he instructs on equine care for shock, bandaging, and managing bleeding.
On Aug. 3 HEET will hold a “Loading Rodeo,” at the arena where group members will bring their own horses to get them used to handling from other members, and safe loading into unfamiliar trailers.
Observation is welcomed, as it’s a skills exercise as well as a training for the animals.
On Sept. 7 they’re going in for something quite different, training for HAM radio operators, at the Cal Fire station in Creston, 6055 Webster Road
Goetz explains the partnership with emergency radio operators is key in evacuation details, with the equine rescuers and radio operators coordinating from the back of an ATV in rough terrain.
A live drill has also been scheduled for October, but the details and location have not been determined.
Julie Monser, involved with HEET since the early days of the organization noted that members don’t always wait for a call either if they hear something on the emergency frequency radio scanner.
Being proactive is important as there aren’t many government organizations able to fill the role, she adds, they’ve grown a lot over the years registering as many animals, their locations, and animal owner information in the region as possible to be ready for a large scale emergency.
A key part of recovery after a disaster will be returning animals safely to their rightful owners she notes, adding that there’s a monetary as well as emotional aspect of horse ownership they have to respect.
With a Post Office Box registered in Nipomo, membership of the organization is spread through the rural areas of the SLO County, North and South, but that’s changing.
This year Goetz and Monser add there’s a push onto organize in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.
After fires swept through forests to the South and East last year, the need for the group became more apparent, Goetz said, the registration, volunteer drive and formation of long-term working relationships are ongoing.
More group information can be found by emailing [email protected], or calling 805-466-7457.