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A crash course in livestock accidents

Jennifer Woods (center) advises area response personnel in ways to handle accidents involving livestock trucks and trailers Wednesday afternoon in Windom. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)1 / 2
Worthington Fire Chief Rick VonHoldt shows off some of the equipment carried in the Emergency Livestock Response Trailer recently acquired. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)2 / 2

WINDOM -- More than 40 people, from firefighters and law enforcement to county staff and industry professionals, attended a day-long workshop Wednesday in Windom so they can better respond to livestock vehicle crashes.

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The training comes on the heels of a recent Department of Homeland Security grant that funded three emergency livestock response trailers in Region 5 (southwest Minnesota). One of the trailers will be stored at the Worthington Fire Department, with the other two placed in Fairmont and New Ulm.

Jill Resler, of the Minnesota Pork Board, which worked in partnership with Homeland Security to place the three trailers, said they are filled with "key things that will help first responders respond to a transportation incident."

Included in the trailer are 14, 10-foot cattle panels to move and corral the animals, cattle and horse halters, several pairs of disposable coveralls, rope, hog pullers, rattle paddles, bungee straps, tarps, chains, plywood, poly fence roll, knee pads, safety goggles, sledge hammers, a ladder, grain shovel and tool box and numerous other items.

The hope is to eventually have funds to place response trailers in communities across the state, about 60 miles apart. Resler said it works well to partner with fire departments, because they already have some of the equipment on hand, such as generators, lighting and saws, so the livestock emergency response trailers don't duplicate those resources.

"The Worthington Fire Department has been fantastic to work with," said Resler, adding that sites were chosen based on their proximity to major highways, livestock density and the ability to store, maintain and dispatch the trailer when needed in an emergency.

"Any livestock processing plant is going to be a funnel for livestock coming into a location," Resler said. "At some point, the odds are going to catch up with the site. There is potential to be more transportation incidents involving livestock."

The livestock emergency response trailers awarded to Worthington, Fairmont and New Ulm are the first in Minnesota to be funded through Homeland Security, with partnership from the Minnesota Pork Board.

"We've modeled these trailers after recommendations from Jennifer Woods, and there's also some larger companies throughout the nation who have response trailers, like Smithfield and Cargill," Resler said.

Woods was the featured speaker at Wednesday's training and is presenting a second training today in New Ulm.

A livestock handling specialist from Blackie, Alberta, Canada, Woods has extensive training in emergency response to crashes involving livestock. Certified in large animal rescue, she teaches a livestock emergency response course throughout the U.S. and Canada and has developed a livestock behavior and handling curriculum for colleges.

Woods walked participants through response scenarios using both a small livestock trailer and a semi tractor and livestock trailer during the hands-on portion of the day. Inside the large trailer, she wanted participants to get a sense for the space in which they would have to work in a rescue response situation, as well as discuss how they would begin a rescue.

Windom firefighter Mark Marcy said walking through the trailer gave him the opportunity to see where first responders can cut into trailers to safely extricate animals.

With a beef processing plant in his community, he said it's nice knowing that a livestock response trailer is available to the department if needed.

"There's a lot of resources in there, and it's not far away," Marcy said. "We're excited to have exposure to this type of training -- we just want to be a little more prepared for it."

Kathy Henderschiedt, of Worthington, a member of the Minnesota Association of County Feedlot Officers board that helped sponsor Wednesday's training, said it's important to educate first responders in southwest Minnesota about proper livestock handling techniques in a crash scene.

"It's one of those situations that you hope doesn't happen, but they're going to," she said. "The more prepared we can be, the better off we are."

By having a trailer in Worthington, Henderschiedt said if a situation occurs, the response team can respond quickly and have the necessary training.

"Hopefully, they can contain and help the livestock survive," she said. "That's the whole goal -- you want as few fatalities as possible."

Worthington Fire Chief Rick von Holdt responded to a semi tractor-trailer rollover that involved a load of hogs a few years ago on the southeast side of Worthington. Now, with the training and the livestock emergency response trailer, he said the department can better respond to these incidents in the future.

"We've got a high percentage of an accident happening," he said, based on Worthington's intersecting highways and interstate access. "I think this (trailer) will help out a bunch. We can put animals in a temporary pen -- we won't have to look after them as much as we did before the proper stock trailers could come and pick them up."

In the coming weeks and months, von Holdt plans to transport the livestock emergency response trailer to other communities in Nobles County, as well as bordering communities, to teach first responders about the available equipment and how to deal with livestock in a crash scenario.

"The priority would always be the driver," said Nobles County Emergency Management Director Joyce Jacobs. "But with the number of livestock producers in the county, we would want to take the best care of the livestock, too."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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