Ashland firefighters and paramedics are now equipped to give first aid to the smallest members of the family — pets.
Thanks to a donation from Project Breathe, Ashland Fire & Rescue carries oxygen masks on all five of its engines. Last week, firefighters received training on how to use the masks and do cardiopulmonary resuscitation on dogs, cats, ferrets, gerbils and even reptiles who have inhaled smoke.
"The purpose is to rescue pets that have been involved in fire so we can help the whole family," said Division Chief Greg Case, who is spearheading the project.
The smaller animals, such as pet birds and lizards, should be placed entirely inside the oxygen mask, said veterinarian Alice Sievers, who led the training. With larger animals, which tend to fare better in smoky and stressful conditions, the masks should be fitted around their noses or heads, depending on their size, she said.
The department received five mask kits from the Invisible Fence Brand, which donated them through Project Breathe. Each of the kits contain three masks in different sizes. The masks are designed to be hooked up to a standard oxygen tank, just like human masks.
Emergency workers should treat cats and dogs similarly to infants when administering CPR and oxygen, Sievers told firefighters Friday.
"Pretend this is an infant or neonate," she said, demonstrating on Bella, a 5-year-old Shih Tzu. "The numbers are basically the same, there's just a few anatomical differences. We don't do mouth-to-mouth, we do mouth-to-snout."
AFR Capt. Dana Sallee said it's helpful to have training on dealing with pets during fires because oftentimes the most traumatic part of a fire for residents is when pets are left inside the home.
"A lot of times, you get the kids out of the house and then one of them forgot to get the pet, and they want to go back in," he said. "We tell them, you can't go back in, but let us know where the pet is and we'll do our best to find it."
Firefighters always treat people first, but if they have available personnel, they will assist pets. After firefighters administer oxygen and CPR to pets, the owners can transport them to an animal hospital in a private vehicle, Sallee said. Firefighters do not have the resources to take pets to the hospital, he said.
After the Oak Knoll fire last August, Sievers, who operates Bear Creek Animal Clinic, treated two cats for malaise, or general sickness, due to stress from the fire, she said. Both of the cats recovered, Sievers said.
"It's good that firefighters know that anything they do improves the animal's chance of surviving the fire and making it to a clinic where they can be treated," she said.