Clayton McCook, of the Large Animal Response Team, talks about the organization. Jacob Derichsweiler, The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY — One organization is known in the state for medical responses, but continues to expand and deploy its large animal response team to disasters.

“Animals in our culture play such a crucial role, everybody knows that, whether we are talking about small animals that are a part of our family or big animals,” said Clayton McCook, vice president of the Oklahoma Large Animal Response Team.

In May, the organization, a division of the Oklahoma Medical Response Corps, responded to tornado damage in Elk City. The team took two horses back for care and helped with medical response teams already on the ground.

More than 575 volunteers are on the State Animal Response Teams, including 68 veterinarians and 40 veterinarian techs.

“To be able to mobilize a large group of people with trucks and trailers and be able to get these animals to safety, and in some cases to the hospital quickly, is really important,” McCook said.

The team uses horse barns across the state including locally at the Lazy E Arena and Heritage Place.

After being with the organization for more than four years, McCook said that preparedness is key for his 100-plus member team that responds to disasters across the state and helps local officials.

It’s the only group within the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps that has equipment, which includes a stock trailer.

“We want to compliment their services,” McCook said. He first became a member during the 2013 Moore tornadoes and said he was ill-prepared on how large animal response works.

“I did not know how the system worked,” McCook said. “It was a very chaotic experience for me, through my own fault.”

“Preparedness is key,” he said, even though he is an assistant veterinarian in Oklahoma City.

Almost every county in Oklahoma has an animal response unit, with some creating multicounty response teams.

“With animals there is a good chance that somebody will be bit, so we need to have medical on hand for our people,” said Mike Payne, a licensed emergency medical technician and volunteer.

During disasters animals are usually frightened and that can create a higher chance of being hurt, Payne said.

“It is a team effort,” he said.

He said the organization prefers to have medical support on any mission, due to the unknown circumstances. The organization also will help medical facilities when they are overwhelmed.

Volunteering over 200 hours a year, Payne said that anybody can get involved with the organization and still have time to volunteer elsewhere.

“When I see them as an EMT they are usually not having the best day. If I can help them through that it helps me grow as a person,” Payne said.

“Because we are a statewide organization made up of the units from across the state, we have the capabilities to do a regional or statewide activation when the need for volunteers is greater,” said Lezlie Carter, Oklahoma Medical Response Corps state coordinator.

Carter said the organization usually knows within 12 to 24 hours after a disaster whether they should respond.

“We are not activated until we are requested to respond,” such as from the Department of Agriculture, Carter said.

The agency has more than 5,300 trained volunteers throughout the state, with many helping in nonmedical areas. Each volunteer is required to complete four different training sessions before becoming a member.

Other volunteers including, Lucien and Barb Jones, have been with the organization for many years as support staff. They said both medical and other staff are always needed.

“When on the scene, they do not have the time to deal with the paperwork,” said Barb Jones, who has been with the organization since 2008. “You are able to go serve when the time is needed.”