burning barn

Barn Fire: Learn How Calm Response Averted Disaster In Canada

Experts say horse owners can learn from the calm and correct actions of those who saved nearly three dozen horses earlier this year at a harness horse training Center in Canada.

Riley McGilloway, of the Halton Hills (Canada) Fire Department, highlighted the response during a presentation this month to horse owners earlier this month in Ontario, Canada. The presentation included a clear rundown of what any barn owner can do in emergencies, starting with that first deep breath to give clear information to the dispatcher. 

Thirty-seven horses were trapped in a barn fire discovered about 1:30 a.m., Dec. 21, 2018, at First Line Training Centre in Milton, Ontario. The first people at the scene found a front-end loader tractor engulfed in flames next to a barn. It is believed the block heater on the tractor, which was plugged into the barn, is what caused the fire.

Firefighters from two towns attacked the blaze, and all hands were on deck evacuating horses from the barn. Firefighters used Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) equipment to rescue horses in the barn. They worked quickly to get 35 of the 37 horses out. 

Horse owners and staff had halters and lead ropes at the ready as horses were handed off to be put in secure areas. 

“We were really lucky to have so many horse handlers at the scene,” said Milton (Canada) Fire Chief Chief Pratt “It was a team effort not only from fire department staff, but from everyone who led horses away from danger and into safe containment areas.” 

Officials say calmly relaying the problem and location of an incident at the first sign of a problem is key and always remembering to give your name and phone number.  McGilloway explains that information from dispatch reaches rescue personell already on their way to the scene. Important details help them prepare a plan, such as how many are involved?  If a human becomes a casualty by rushing into a burning barn, they know their priority has shifted from saving livestock to saving human life.

McGilloway pointed out that educated/experienced horse people including Joe Stutzman, who was first at the scene at the First Line fire, did not pull open the doors until fire and rescue arrived so the fire did not receive additional oxygen further fueling it and intensifying the flames.

Officials gave other tips for horsemen to consider during a fire:

  • Send someone to the road to meet the fire truck and give directions on exactly where to go. 
  • Help with the scene survey giving first responders the layout of the barn and letting them know what is connected that could be further ignition sources.
  • Move anything that may be in the way so the fire trucks can get to where they need to be. 

A rescue team effort becomes faster and more effective when those arriving on the scene are informed what they can and cannot do to help.  The many owners who arrived at the First Line fire quickly became an asset to the rescue, helping with containment of the horses pulled from the burning barn and then holding and assisting as the veterinary team sprang into action.

The March 19 presentation to horse owners also included insight from a representative from Woodbine Entertainment, which provided temporary stabling to many evacuated horses at its Woodbine Mohawk Park harness track in Campbellville, Ontario.

“We were tremendously proud of everyone involved in the rescue and the quick decisions that were made,” Woodbine Mowhawk Park President Jessica Buckley said in a statement. “The importance of barn fire knowledge cannot be underestimated and we are pleased to help facilitate barn safety training for horse people.”

Equine Guelph, which shared information about the fire presentation, is offering a short course aimed at giving horse owners and racetrack workers tips on how to reduce the risk of barn fires, how to respond to them and how to develop a safety plan for their facility. Equine Guelph is run out of the University of Guelph, which is a college about 60 miles from Toronto, Ontario. Woodbine Mohawk Park is offering a training seminar on April 10.

For more news and information from the Western performance horse industry, subscribe to Quarter Horse News.