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Incidents involving animals

Hazard Knowledge

This section contains generic control measures that may be appropriate when dealing with any incident involving animals, whatever the species, size or location.

Animal instinct and behaviour

When approaching animals, or working where animals are present, emergency responders need to understand animal instinct, behaviour and mental abilities. When feeling threatened or fearful, animals react on instinct and have natural defence mechanisms. This may result in unwanted or unpredictable behaviour, such as panic or aggression, commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response.

The reaction of an animal to a perceived threat will depend on:

  • The species of the animal, including its defence mechanisms and its protective nature towards offspring or its group
  • The group or herd dynamics
  • The nature of the entrapment or perceived threat
  • Levels of stimulation, including the light, noise and movement of operational activity
  • Environmental conditions
  • The level of fear the animal is experiencing
  • Whether the animal is ill, injured or in pain
  • Whether the animal has previously been handled by, or had contact with, people
  • The animal’s previous positive or negative experience with people

Failure to understand and anticipate the behaviour of animals may present a risk to human life, an immediate threat to safety, or harm to the animal; this may have a negative impact on implementing the tactical plan. The animal’s behaviour may restrict or block the access, egress and escape routes for emergency responders and vehicles.

Health hazards relating to animals

Health hazards relating to animals may be encountered at any incident. However, attending an incident where there is direct or close contact with an animal will amplify those hazards.

The health hazards to fire and rescue service personnel range from physical injuries, through to the transmission of zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) and biohazards, based on the species involved.

There is a legal obligation to report the presence or suspicion of a notifiable disease in animals. Refer to for further information.

Following contact with animals, it is important that fire and rescue service personnel pay close attention to hygiene, carry out appropriate decontamination and seek specialist advice if necessary.

For information on this hazard and its control measures, refer to the National Operational Guidance: Operations – Physical hazards.

Presence of people

There are many incidents involving animals where the owner of the animal, or other members of the public, put themselves at risk in an effort to rescue an animal. In attempting to do this, especially in a hazardous environment, people may in turn need rescuing.

For guidance on rescuing people, refer to the National Operational Guidance: Performing rescues and the National Operational Guidance: Water rescue and flooding.