Bastrop Complex Wildfire Updates

September 14, 2011

The number of animals seen by the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team has remained steady as team members continue operating at the Bastrop Rodeo Arena. Two veterinarians and a total of nine fourth year veterinary medical students have participated in in the Bastrop Complex deployment, providing relief for other members of the team.

“As of this moment, we anticipate continuing our operations through the later part of the week,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the VET. “We could potentially de-mobilize on Friday, but we are committed to serving as long as we are needed.”

Bissett noted that one of the challenges his team has faced during this deployment has been dealing with equipment repair. Yet, there are even positive stories that have come out of these types of difficulties, which demonstrate not only the ability of the Bastrop community to respond to an emergency, but also its resilience and ability to recover.

“A perfect example is a mechanic from BaBa’s Automotive Repair,” said Bissett. “He came to our base of operations to help with a mechanical issue we were having with our equipment and refused to take any reimbursement for his efforts. He knew we were there to support his community, and he came out to support our efforts. For this we are grateful. There is no doubt in any of our minds that this community has been dealt a serious blow, and at the same time there is also no doubt the citizens of this town and county will persevere.”

September 13, 2011

As more of the area affected by the Bastrop Complex wildfire is brought under control, the number of animals being seen by the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team has been significantly reduced. However, the services of this special team are still needed to support local veterinarians and animal health officials with those animals remaining in emergency shelters.

“For now, it looks like we will be remaining at our present location here at the Bastrop Rodeo Complex until the end of the week,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the VET. “There are still some animals found in affected areas that need treatment, as well as the request from the State of Texas, Bastrop County, and the local private practitioners to continue our assistance with the care of the animals in the emergency shelters. It’s our mission to make sure that we are doing all we can to support this community’s veterinarians as they continue to respond to animal needs.”

Dr. Bissett noted that as operations have slowed, he has been able to reflect on the opportunity this deployment has provided his team to meet and to work with new people.

“It’s important for me to thank the members of the VET: Drs Howe, Mays, Dominguez, Easterwood, Sprake, and Norton; veterinary technicians Lessa Block, Dana Whitaker, Melissa Welch, and Carin Ponder; and senior veterinary students Jaci Carriker, Josh Shield, John Williams, Holly Marriott, Allegra Lamison, and Megan Gaines,” said Bissett. “They have truly answered the call of animals in need by deploying as part of our team.”

In addition, Bissett recognized the extraordinary efforts of the local veterinarians.

“We were able to work in cooperation with the skilled practitioners representing practices such as the Bastrop Animal Hospital, Hwy 71 Veterinary Hospital, and Crossroads Animal Hospital, as well as numerous other private practitioners, to deliver the very best care we could to not only the animals that were evacuated, but those that were rescued from the fire as well,” said Bissett. “They have done an extraordinary job and it has been an honor to work with them.”

Finally, Bissett noted the commitment and support the citizens of Bastrop provided the VET.

“The citizens of Bastrop have been very supportive of the response effort from law enforcement and emergency management personnel, to the first responders and the rest of the community,” said Bissett. “I am amazed at their dedication and their resilience. It has been our pleasure to serve in their community.”

So while those whose lives have been affected by the wildfire wait to begin the process of recovery, the members of the VET will continue their work, knowing that when they return to Texas A&M, they will have made a positive impact on the community in which they served and will have established strong connection to the citizens of Bastrop as well as their animals.

September 12, 2011

While firefighters continue working to increase the control they have over the wildfire burning in Bastrop, the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team will move its base of operations into the Bastrop community. This will make the resources of the team more accessible to the public, as well as to those who are currently operating shelters for animals found in the affected area.

“On Tuesday morning, our plan is to perform a last assessment and examination of the search and rescue dogs for Texas Task Force-1 prior to their departure,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the VET. “Once that is complete, we will begin to move our base of operations closer into the community so that we can assist with the veterinary medical care for animals that have been housed in the emergency shelters there, and ensure the needs of animals are being met as the re-entry process into some of the affected areas begins.”

The VET has been deployed in the Bastrop area since the beginning of last week, and anticipates returning to College Station toward the end of this week as the fire is brought under control and local responders and veterinary practitioners are able to meet the needs of the affected animals.

“This has been an incredible exercise in teamwork,” said Bissett, “involving multiple agencies and private veterinary practitioners. It has been truly a privilege to work with such professional teams as we responded to animals in need.”

September 11, 2011

As the rest of the nation pauses to remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET), and his team also took time this morning to remember the heroes from that day before returning to the work at hand – caring for the animal victims of the Bastrop wildfire.

The area where they now operate has become a surreal, blackened landscape where virtually everything is burned and black all the way to the tree-tops. While the team continues to treat animals that arrive singed and burned, in the middle of such devastation, it illustrates the important role that those involved in the animal response continue to play.

“Can you imagine how these animals survived,” asks Bissett. “It is the duty of our profession to take care of their needs. They are important. They may be all a family has left of their former life.”

Since deploying to Bastrop, the members of the Texas VET have played a key role in the multi-agency response effort. The team has seen approximately 100 rescued small animals brought in from areas cleared by first responders, 50 of which needed fairly extensive treatment. There have also been a few large animals seen as well, some in shelters with injuries which occurred during the evacuation process.

“In addition to the rescued animals, our team has continued our work with the search and rescue dogs,” said Bissett. “These dogs are attached to Texas Task Force-1, and it is amazing to see how these dogs are treated. They are so much more than tools, they are true team members and receive the same care and respect as their human counterparts. They have been working under difficult conditions, and we have been providing them with fluid therapy as well as dealing with the results of working across rough and hot terrain. The members of TTF-1 are a truly impressive group who are as concerned about the animals they find as the other aspects of their job, never losing sympathy for the people and animals affected by this wildfire.”

Bissett also realizes that his team is only able to do their job with the cooperation of other agencies. Financial support and equipment support helped get this team started. The Texas Department of Emergency Management, Coufal Prater, John Deere Corporation, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation provided early support that helped to make the VET a reality.

“While I had only met Jack Colley, former head of the Texas Department of Emergency Management, I heard many stories about how much he loved animals and was committed to their care during disasters,” recalls Bissett. “He was instrumental in TDEM providing the initial funding. I think he would be proud of what we have built. Fortunately the commitment to excellence in emergency response continues under the leadership of Chief Nim Kidd. The emergency response system in the State of Texas is world-class. This state does it right”.

Two others instrumental in the development of the VET are Drs. Dee Ellis and Matt Cochran of the Texas Animal Health Commission. Bissett noted that it was at their urging that the VET unit was developed for use in disasters, and they continue to be partners with the VET in both service and education.

“TAHC continues to work closely with partners such as the TAMU VET to help the local responders address the needs of animals in response to the wildfires,” said Amanda Bernhard, TAHC Emergency Management Coordinator, echoing Bissett’s commitment to the partnership between the two organizations.

In addition to the search and rescue team from TTF-1, The Austin and Bastrop Animal Control units continue to foray into areas deemed clear by firefighters to search for animals in distress, and to bring them to the VET for triage and emergency care.

“As our days alternate between quiet and intense action,” said Bissett, “it has been special and an honor to watch the diversity of first responders, including our own team, pitch in to support the emergency response with such dedication and commitment. They have been handling the tasks at hand, whatever we are asked to face each day, with professionalism and compassion. This has been an extremely humbling experience for all of us, and today, on Patriots’ Day, while we remember those who responded ten years ago, I want to recognize and thank the heroes that continue to work with us and around us, deployed or not, that serve in difficult conditions to make the world a safer place for all of us.”

September 10, 2011

The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team is continuing their response effort in Bastrop, and have now moved their base of operations closer to the front line on the southeast side of the community. Their continuing mission is providing support and care for search and rescue dogs belonging to Texas Task Force-1, as well as triage for animals brought in from areas that have been cleared for animal control officials to enter.

“We now have both of our response trailers in operation,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “In addition, we have a field service vehicle available which allows us to be more flexible in our response. Primarily we continue to see small animals with burn injuries, but we are prepared for whatever comes our way. We are beginning to rotate some of our staff this weekend, and will have three new veterinary medical students joining our efforts.”

Bissett noted that a response to animals in the midst of a disaster this size is only possible through organized cooperation, coordination, and teamwork. Dr. Terry Hensley, assistant executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, agrees with Bissett.

“We are glad we have such a reliable partner in the CVM VET,” said Hensley. “Our organizations have a variety of skills that complement each other in our shared mission of addressing the needs of animals in disaster situations.”

September 9, 2011

As more area becomes accessible to responders in Bastrop County, the number of animals arriving at the Veterinary Emergency Team triage center continues to increase. Beginning last night and continuing this morning, VET members are working to expand the size of their operational base to accommodate the animals that are brought in by animal control officials.

“We are still seeing a large number of domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and horses,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences and director of the VET. “We have also seen some livestock and are beginning to see some small wild animals.”

Bissett noted that due to the location of this wildfire and the area that it is affecting, the team has been prepared to see all kinds of animals and provide triage services so that these animals can better receive the treatment and shelter they need.

“It has been a true team effort in dealing with the animal side of this response effort,” said Bissett. “It is a distinct pleasure for our team of faculty, staff, and students to be able to work alongside such experienced and professional teams from the Texas Department of Emergency Management, the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Task Force-1, the Travis County Animal Control team, and the Bastrop County Sherrif’s Office, as well as the Livestock Control Officers of Bastrop County. We are glad that we are able to support their efforts through our service.”

As the battle to contain the Bastrop County wildfire continues, Bissett and the members of the VET will continue evaluating and assessing the needs of not only the animals in the area, but the needs of VET members, with decisions potentially being made on the need to expand the size of the team and/or to rotate members into and out of the area.

September 8, 2011

After an initial assessment yesterday with Texas Animal Health Commission officials, members of the Veterinary Emergency Team returned to Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences to bring in additional personnel and equipment to respond to the urgent needs of animal injuries in the wake of the Bastrop wildfire.

“It was busier today,” said Dr. Wesley Bissett, professor of large animal clinical sciences and director of the VET. “We saw a number of animals, both large and small, and primarily burn injuries. We’ve been performing triage on these rescued pets and livestock with those that needed no further treatment transported to shelters in the area, while those that needed additional care were sent to local practitioners in the area.”

Currently, there is a 13-member team comprised of faculty, staff, and students active in the response effort. Working out of the VET surgical trailer that is also set up for triage and examinations, the VET continues to see injured animals brought out of the affected area in addition to continued support of Texas Task Force-1 by performing end of operations evaluations on their search and rescue dogs, dealing with any injuries they may have incurred.

“It is a privilege to work with such a knowledgeable and dedicated group,” said Bissett. “The members of TTF-1 have been great to work with. In addition, the Bastrop community has done an amazing job in a tragic situation. This is particularly the case with the local veterinarians in the area. They have been available to their communities’ animals and have done an incredible job. This has truly been a great team effort by all who have responded to meet the needs of not only the people affected by this wildfire, but also the animals.”

Tonight, the VET will work to set up a larger base of operations for both the members supporting TTF-1 and those that are responding to injured animals brought in from the affected area. This move will prepare the team to deal with what is anticipated to be busier days ahead when more animals are discovered as the fire comes under control and animal control officials are able to reach other areas.

September 7, 2011

At the request of Texas Task Force-1 (TTF-1), a component of the Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has deployed to the Bastrop wildfires Wednesday morning. Drs. Lisa Howe and Philippa Sprake; veterinary technicians Dana Whitaker, Karin Ponder and Lessa Block; and senior veterinary students John Williams and Jaci Carriker joined TTF-1 to provide veterinary support for the task force’s search and rescue dogs.

In addition, Dr. Wesley Bissett, Dr. Norberto Espitia, Dr. Glennon Mays, and fourth year veterinary student Josh Shields traveled to the affected area to work with Texas Animal Health Commission to assess animal needs as a result of the wildfires.

“We have worked throughout the day to determine what the situation is with animals in the affected areas,” said Bissett. “We have had the opportunity to work with local veterinarians in the area, representatives from the Texas Department of Emergency Management, and the team from the Texas Animal Health Commission to identify the most urgent needs for these animals and to develop an appropriate and coordinated response.”

From what was seen during today’s assessment, officials are still working to determine just how many more members of the VET need to respond. That answer could come as early as this evening, but potentially Thursday morning as first responders battle a wildfire that continues to consume large amounts of acreage in the Bastrop area.

The VET, which was formally unveiled in 2010, is a team that consists of veterinary faculty, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and staff from the CVM that are deployable through official requests from the state in response to animals in disaster situations.