ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Escambia County’s Department of Animal Welfare will soon have equipment and training to form an Animal Search and Rescue Disaster Response Team that would be able to respond to mass care events throughout the gulf region.

On Thursday night, the Escambia County Board of Commissioners approved a grant agreement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which provides $50,000 to the Department of Animal Welfare for the equipment and training.

Escambia County Animal Welfare Director John Robinson said they are always trying to improve their disaster response.

“We helped during Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Sally, which had a big impact here,” Robinson said. “We get a lot of those hurricane issues, so we always want to build and be better at our disaster response and be able to better help our community. This grant looked like the perfect opportunity for that.”

The plan for the team is to have 10 Escambia County employees, including personnel from the Escambia County Emergency Response team and Escambia County Fire Rescue, trained in the following disciplines:

  • Large Animal Technical Rescue
  • Swift Water Technical Rescue
  • Flood Water Technical Rescue
  • Boat Operations
  • Wildfire Awareness

Robinson said one of the challenges they have been facing with disaster response is they haven’t been able to get into the water.

“Adding this training gives us the capability to actually do those things instead of depending on a group,” Robinson said. “A lot of times when we have a hurricane hit or have flooding, we usually have our partner agencies on the ground. Now, we will have one in our own community to help out quickly.”

The grant will provide a Jon Boat and a trailer and motor for the boat for $15,000, training for five days, which would cost $12,000, PPE for ten people, which would cost $18,000 and decontamination equipment for $5,000.

Robinson said because they are good stewards to their neighbors, they are excited to be able to provide services to surrounding counties.

“It also benefits our community because we get to practice what we are doing,” Robinson said. “One of the things you don’t want to do is train a disaster response team and then not respond for a significant period of time. So, yes, we would utilize this to help neighbors and other communities that might be impacted in the near vicinity.”

Division Manager for the Department of Animal Welfare Kevin Monfreda said they are ecstatic for this opportunity.

“It has been a long time in the making,” Monfreda said. “We have been trying to do this for a while.”

Robinson said he is looking forward to a lasting partnership with the ASPCA.

“I have worked with the ASPCA during disasters and large-scale animal cruelty cases, so having a partner of their stature is hugely beneficial to our area, as well,” Robinson said. “When we have to respond to things in our area, the APSCA will bring their resources to our community, as well. I’m excited to partner with them, not only on the grant, but as an organization. I think the two of us working together will be a huge benefit for this area.”

The team is set for training on Feb. 27 through March 3.