After listening in on a conversation between a mix of firefighters and first responders, we thought the respect those emergency personnel have for those of us who care for cows could be the foundation for a testimonial on animal care. Not even The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) could counter the response plan these fire departments employ upon arriving at a dairy farm fire.

Find the dairy farmer.

Don't let him or her out of sight.

Why do they do this? Because the dairy farmer's love for their herd is so strong, he or she will often re-enter a raging blaze to save every last animal despite all odds.

It's that "save the herd at all costs" mentality that most concerns rural firefighters serving those in dairy country. Perhaps it's the resounding work ethic found among dairy farmers. But more often than not, it's the incredible bond between the dairy herd and its caretaker.

In talking with these trained specialists with decades of emergency response experience, they rarely encounter the same passion at house fires or similar blazes in which property owners will risk one's life to save an animal once all human life has been rescued from the engulfed building.

Don't get us wrong, firefighters are compassionate people. They want to save every living being, including pets and cattle, but their priority is first to human life, then animals, then extinguishing the blaze. But it's human life that matters the most. It is the very reason that the first order of business includes locating the dairy farmer upon arrival at the fire, as the last situation any fire chief wants is a fire that goes from an "involved" . . . where the water brigade is battling flames . . . to a "recovery" where firefighters are searching for human souls amid falling timber and twisting metal.

To avoid that search for the farmer, command central in many dairy regions often assigns the strongest firefighter to one task - find the dairy farmer, secure that person in a safe location, and don't let him or her out of their sight because the dairy farmer's love for their herd is so strong he or she will risk their own life to save one more calf or cow.

We are not making light of a serious situation. These stories that surfaced after a series of barn fires in northeast Wisconsin deserve to be told. The ultimate sacrifice any human can make is to lay down one's life for a friend. In this case, firefighters want to corral that passion so dairy farmers don't lay down one's life for their herd in the ultimate consideration for animal care.

This editorial appears on page 672 of the October 25, 2015 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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