Firefighters receive pet life-saving tool


Pet-sized oxygen masks are now available on Lincoln fire equipment.

Story and Photo by Patrick Breen, NewsNetNebraska

The family was devastated. Their house, possessions and photo albums were burning. They had thought they lost everything. But then a Lincoln firefighter brought out their German sheppard.

Lincoln Fire Chief Richard Furasek recalled that two-minutes on an improvised oxygen mask saved the dog’s life and brought some solace to a family that thought they lost everything.

For years Lincoln firefighters have had to improvise ways of saving people’s pets’ lives, hand crafting different ways to supply oxygen to keep dogs, cats and some smaller mammals alive.

But with a recent gift from the Capital Humane Society and several Lincoln residents, the Lincoln Fire and Rescue Department has received 18 oxygen mask sets from the “Fur Life Program” to distribute among the fire stations.

“It’s a tool we have now,” Furasek said. “I can’t say if it will save (pets’) lives or if it won’t, but I hope it will help.”

Furasek, a 35-year veteran of the Fire Department, said no special training was required and the masks were quite easy to use. Each set comes with three different-sized masks that fit anything from a large dog to a small cat or kitten.

“The three sizes fit many different muzzle types and allow for the rescuer to fit the shape of the pet,” Bob Downey, executive director of the Capital Humane Society, said.

The masks are shaped to fit dogs’ and cats’ mouths but can also be modified to fit smaller pets like rodents and birds, too.

The oxygen masks work very similarly to an oxygen mask for human use. To prevent smoke asphyxiation the mask is put around the muzzle of the animal and pure oxygen is pumped into the chamber. Even if a pet is pulled from a fire, the animal may still suffer from smoke asphyxiation and die if not treated, Furasek said.

Humane Society donor P. D. Duensing approached Downey about buying the pet oxygen masks after learning about the “Fur Life Program.” Duensing, an anonymous donor and the Humane Society donated $1,500 for the masks.

The donation allows the firefighters to save more animals’ lives, but the masks haven’t been used yet. In the 250 fires since Jan. 1, only a handful have involved pets. In the limited cases where pets’ lives needed to be saved, Furasek said the firefighters did their best.

“Lincoln Fire Department has always been very successful in saving pets,” Downey said, “but the overall hope was that they would have an easier time trying to do so.”

The “Fur Life Program” was started in 2008 by Wag’N Enterprises, an organization focused on providing safety for pets. Ines De Pablo, president and CEO, said the organization promotes pet first aid and safety-proofing pet owners’ houses.

The organization sells stickers called Pet Alerts, which are put on windows of homes so firefighters know pets are inside and people want them saved.

“Our goal is to empower pet owners to learn the skills necessary to save lives should a crisis occur, and to provide life saving equipment and training,” De Pablo said.

De Pablo later found out that oxygen masks in pet veterinary clinics could be easily used on a scene of a fire. She contacted the manufacturer and developed the “Fur Life Program,” which encourages people to buy equipment for local fire departments.

Furasek said people occasionally make donations to the fire department to help improve care, but this is the first donation specifically aimed at pets.

Furasek and Downey agreed that rescuing pets is important to providing some solace to a family that has lost their home in a fire.

“Pets mean so much to people,” Downey said. “Losing so much already, a pet which is so much a part of a family can be devastating.”

Dog owner Reed Pflughaupt, who was recently at the Humane Society looking for another dog, agreed. Pflughaupt said losing his boxer, pit-bull mix, Tyson, in a fire, “would be horrible. I can’t even think about it.”

Pflughaupt said that he could lose his house, computer and belongings, as long as he kept his dog.

“The property loss is bad enough,” Downey said,” but it gets so much emotionally worse to lose a pet, too.”

Kathyrn Carrol, 31, was thinking of adopting her third cat from the Humane Society.

“I’m searching for the next member of my family,” she said. “I love them, they mean so much to me.”

“They are a part of families,” Furasek said. “Our first and main priority is people. But we save these animals too.”

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