Athol Fire Department completes Nero’s Law training

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 03-13-2023 5:54 PM

ATHOL – On April 12, 2018, Yarmouth Police Sergeant Sean Gannon and his K9 partner Nero were shot while serving a warrant in Marstons Mills.

Tragically, Gannon died of his injuries while undergoing treatment at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. Because of restrictions in place at the time, emergency medical crews were prohibited from transporting Nero—who was seriously injured—to a veterinary hospital in their ambulance. Instead, he was taken to a Dennis veterinary hospital in a police cruiser and survived.

Three years later, on June 4, 2021, Braintree police dog Kitt was shot and killed and two officers injured while responding to a report of a domestic incident. The two officers recovered from their injuries.

The shooting of Kitt provided the impetus for the legislature to pass Nero’s Law, sponsored by state Sen. Mark Montigny and Rep. Steven Xiarhos, who was a deputy police chief in Yarmouth at the time Gannon and Nero were shot. The bill, signed into law by then-Gov. Charlie Baker in February 2022, allows “a police dog…injured in the line of duty to be transported in an ambulance if there is not competing need for human transport.”

Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera told the Athol Daily News his team has already completed the training necessary to provide such service. Earlier this month, he explained, the staff from Family Pet Veterinary Services in Athol led a class for the department on canine medical emergencies.

Under the new law, the chief said, “If in fact a police dog, or a dog working under the auspices of a police department gets injured, any ambulance can transport that dog and provide BLS (basic life support), not ALS (advanced life support), to that animal in transport. So now we can, as EMS providers, transport police dogs or dogs being used in official lines of duty to local animal hospitals.”

The Office of Emergency Medical Services, Guarnera added, came out with protocols for what needs to be learned and understood as far as canine first aid. This includes airway management, CPR, breathing, shock, trauma, burns, even giving Narcan or Naloxone.

Narcan is used to treat victims of opioid overdose. Guarnera explained the drug would be used on dogs that might have been injured while doing a drug search and came across fentanyl or other drug.

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Wanting to make sure his team was trained well ahead of deadline, Guarnera said, “We needed the training. Dr. Joseph Cosman and Dr. Sue Ellen Mowcomber came with Jillian Guerin and Patsy Lincoln – they came here with our dogs Montana and Sheldon – and gave us the training we needed by OEMS protocols to actually provide first aid for these animals. God forbid something would happen to them, we could respond and know what we’re doing.”

Guarnera said the new law covers police dogs only.

“In a fire, and it’s happened, if we can rescue an animal, we can give them oxygen, and we’ve done that in the past. I think every fire department has at one point. But as far as transporting the animal and actually doing BLS interface while transporting, we cannot do that. It goes back to calling Animal Control or calling the MSPCA and seeing if they can respond. That all stays status quo.”

Guarnera said the training was mandatory, so all but two of his firefighter/EMTs took part. The pair who were unable to make it will receive their training elsewhere.

Guarnera said the staff at Family Pet not only donated their time, they actually donated the equipment that needed for responding to these incidents.

“They donated some equipment that the state mandates that we have,” he said. “The donated airway masks and tourniquets so that we can properly take care of these animals. We very, very grateful to them.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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