To the rescue: Griffith fireman earns himself nation-wide respect I Gallery

WHAT started as a joke among work colleagues has earned a local firefighter respect among his peers, but also from animal lovers across the nation.

While based as a firefighter in Sydney, Griffith-raised Anthony Hatch would be the go-to man among his colleagues when the rescue team was called to incidents involving large animals.

"We'd have horses stuck in dams, or overturned floats and the distressed animal would kick and fight and make it hard for the rescuers to get near them," Mr Hatch said.

"Everyone would turn to me for help. 'You're from the country, you'd know what to do', they'd say. But I didn't. It was all guesswork, there wasn't much information or training available for large animal rescue.

"Nobody was trained in it. I didn't want one of our guys to get injured or worse on a rescue job, and I didn't want the animal to suffer. We had to do something."

That was six years ago.

After doing his own research, Mr Hatch was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship for Animal Emergency Services in 2009, and after intensive studies in the US and Europe, the humble Griffith-based fireman is now Australia's leading name when it comes to animal rescue.

"We've developed a special training course for the fire service and the SES, and we've trained people from every state," Mr Hatch said.

The senior instructor, who started his career as a retained firefighter in Griffith in 1990, before moving to Sydney for several years, now not only trains fire and rescue crews, but also veterinarians at Wagga and Melbourne University for the challenging hands-on job of rescuing animals from distressing situations.

And while he usually deals with horses and cattle, a trip to the US has seen him take large animal rescue to a new level.

"At San Diego zoo we've had to lift an elephant with a sore tooth," he said.