Sept, 2009. The prestigious Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines had a two-story barn destroyed by fire. No animals or humans were harmed. Perhaps that is because Ryerss had done much right. There was a fire alarm in the barn. It did ring inside the main residence. The fire occurred despite the fact that the barn was made of stone walls and a metal roof. Ironically, according to the newspaper report , that fire-proof exterior “ insulated the fire and allowed the temperature inside the barn to get extremely high and was causing the hay to smolder.” Also according to the newspaper report: “one of the biggest challenges about fight the fire was the (limited) water supply.” Two horses and a potbellied pig who were in the barn at the time, got out uninjured.

How about your facility? If a fire broke out, would you escape with only structural damage (devastating as that is)? Would an alarm ring? Even better yet, would a sprinkler system activate? Are animals ever locked in a structure? How long would it take to reach them? To get them out?

Yesterday, for 250 exotic birds, the answers were not good. The newspaper report begins with this horrible sentence: “Hundreds of exotic birds and a dog have died in a blaze that destroyed a building at a private Las Vegas nature preserve and sanctuary.”

The Value of the Accreditation Process

Just before a pilot takes off, s/he reads aloud from a checklist, just to make sure everything vital is checked out. The pilot tests each critical piece of equipment, and checks that all is clear before takeoff. Doesn’t matter if the plane has never had an accident. Doesn’t matter how experienced the pilot is. The checklist is used.

Similarly, the GFAS accreditation application is a chance for a sanctuary to check for critical pieces, and make sure all are in operating condition. The GFAs accreditation process starts with a thorough self-evaluation checklist.

After joining GFAS, on one of my first visits to a model sanctuary, we discovered a smoldering fire in progress when we opened the door and stepped inside a building housing animals, bedded down for the night. I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but that site visit drove home to me the importance of the accreditation process. If a model sanctuary could have a building with more than twenty animals in it, with a heater running inside, and no fire alarm, no fire extinguisher, no sprinkler system ….I knew it could happen any place. It is all too easy to overlook something, given the overwhelming task that sanctuary work is. The GFAS accreditation process helps a sanctuary spot overlooked areas of risk or weakness and correct them.

Two Common Disasters

By far the two most common disasters (beyond shutting down) that I have seen hit sanctuaries since beginning with GFAS are: 1) barn fires and 2) the sudden departure of the founder.

Think neither can happen at your place?

We all know the unthinkable can and does happen.

You know what to do. Put in place fire alarms which also ring in the main residence, fire extinguishers, and better yet, sprinkler systems. Hold fire drills. Think through your water supply. Have emergency numbers posted. Have everyone equipped with a cell phone. Test emergency equipment often. Store hay in a separate barn from your animals. Have the fire department come out and give recommendations. Make sure they can get into your facility and are familiar with it. These are not luxury items. These are critical pieces from day one. Taking basic precautions against anything that could kill your animals is not something to do “someday”, but rather something to do TODAY, if you have not already done so.

Regarding the founder’s sudden departure, I’ll address that next blog.

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