The fires that ravaged the mountains in Sevier County and the Gatlinburg Jim Thompson Sharepoint resized.jpgcommunity are something you see on the nightly news that happens somewhere else: earthquakes in California, tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes on the east coast. Last November, wind gusts in excess of 60 mph carried flames from a small fire at the Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park throughout the park and into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas. Fourteen lives were lost, thousands of acres burned, and nearly $1 billion in insurance claims filed to date. The Sevier County Humane Society was forced to evacuate its animal shelter and set up an emergency shelter at the county fairgrounds. Animals were triaged with the help of local veterinarians and veterinary technicians and the most serious cases were sent to our veterinary medical center at UTCVM.

Before the first burn patient was transported to us, we gathered a team to evaluate our resources and determine a course of action. The weeks following the fire, our medical teams in the small animal intensive care unit treated 19 cats with severe burns to their paw pads, a pig with lungs damaged by smoke inhalation and severe burns to his hooves, another pig with wounds sustained when he ran away, and a dog with minor smoke inhalation. This was perhaps the first test of our veterinary medical center’s new certification as a Level 1 Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care facility. Last fall, UTCVM became the only certified facility in Tennessee and one of only 30 Level I facilities worldwide. A Level I facility is a 24-hour acute care facility with the resources and specialty training necessary to provide sophisticated emergent care and the highest level of critical healthcare attention. People who had lost everything in the fires entrusted us with the medical care of their beloved, critically-injured pets. With the magnitude of loss the fire victims faced, we didn’t want to send them home with a bill. None of the owners or the animal shelter were charged for the medical care the animals injured in the fire received, and we are grateful to the many members of the community, both local and global, who donated to help cover the costs of treating these burn victims.

In addition to helping the animals brought to the veterinary medical center, our people responded in other ways to provide fire relief efforts. Many faculty, staff, and students volunteered at the emergency shelter, including a veterinary assistant who took a vacation day to volunteer. Students also volunteered at the shelter, accommodating people displaced by the fires as they best could. Our Companion Animal Initiative of Tennessee (CAIT) was in almost daily contact with the shelter to coordinate needed supplies as well as work with pharmaceutical representatives for other medical supplies such as pet oxygen masks, medications, syringes, thermometers, fluids, and other items. CAIT also coordinated people, dubbed Foster Vols, who fostered shelter animals. Another college outreach program, Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT), has a memorandum of understanding with the East Tennessee Red Cross Chapter, and four HABIT teams (human and dog) that had undergone Psychological First Aid certification worked at the human shelters for almost two weeks.

Ultimately, the medical team that treated the animals injured in the fires plans to contribute to the body of knowledge in the veterinary literature, to help future burn victims. In the meantime, the college will continue its daily mission of delivering teaching, research, and service excellence. We were grateful to have been able to serve a small role helping the animals who are Mountain Tough.