When a house is on fire, the first thing most people think of when escaping is getting your loved ones out of harm's way. And while fleeing the structure with your spouse and/or children is the ultimate priority, a family pet may only be a second thought.
"If there's a fire, unfortunately you grab your wife and kids... but can't take your pet right away," said Tim Barrett, training officer for the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District.
In many cases, a dog or a cat inside the house may attempt to hide from rescue personnel, trapping themselves inside the structure where the most dangerous enemy is smoke inhalation. Pets who breathe smoke may gasp or cough, and they often faint from lack of oxygen.
Firefighter/paramedic Joe Nygaard shows the pet oxygen mask to a Sanibel dog named Buddy on Tuesday morning.
Inhalation of smoke is a medical emergency which needs immediate attention. Smoke can be insidious and kill a dog or cat hours - or several days - after it is inhaled. In addition, pets who stop breathing need oxygen, artificial respiration and possibly CPR in order to survive.
Earlier this week, the SFRD received three 02 Fur Live Pet Oxygen Masks, which is compatible with the department's emergency oxygen gear, which may help save the life of a Sanibel pet if it is trapped inside a smoke-filled structure.
"A few years ago, they had a big fire at the dog track in Bonita," said Barrett. "That's when we first thought about getting this kind of gear."
In 2005, 11 dogs perished and dozens more were injured following a structural fire at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track.
According to Assistant Chief Matt Scott, the SFRD received three kits - provided by Wag'N Pet Safety Gear in Herndon, Va. - through their 02 Fellowship Program. Scott had been contacted by Joanne Simone, a kindergarten teacher in Margate, Fla. who started raising funds to purchase pet safety gear for Florida-based fire departments.
Each kit - which retails for $65 each - comes with three different sized masks, which can be used on dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and other domestic animals.
"With these masks, we can deliver oxygen to a pet who may be in respiratory distress due to smoke inhalation, or it may have inhaled a toxic chemical, like from a bug bomb," added Barrett. "The air we normally breathe is 21 percent oxygen. With the masks, we can deliver 100 percent oxygen.
Each of the SFRD's trucks will be equipped with an 02 Fur Live Pet Oxygen Mask kit, with a spare kit kept at Fire Station #1.