SOUTH ROXANA — The South Roxana Volunteer Fire Department expanded its ability to serve the public on Oct. 15 when Invisible Fence of St. Louis and Kennelwood Pet Resorts donated two pet rescue mask kits to help treat furry family members affected by smoke during a fire.
“When a family suffers the tragedy of a fire, lives are turned upside down,” said Albert Lee, director of Invisible Fence Brand. “Pets are valued family members, so we want families to know that their pet can be cared for if tragedy strikes.”
The donation is a small step toward the larger goal of equipping every fire department in the United States and Canada through the Invisible Fence Brand’s Project Breathe program.
“I was looking online to actually purchase some for the department,” South Roxana Fire Chief Todd Werner said. “I came across this grant program and applied for it. The process took right around a month to be approved. We have training a few times a month; the next several training meetings will give us time to touch on this new equipment and get comfortable with it.”
Kennelwood Pet Resorts marketing manager Meghan Dyonzak said upward of 150,000 pets die annually from smoke inhalation.
“This project has seen through the donations of more than 10,000 pet oxygen masks to fire stations all over the U.S. and Canada,” Dyonzak said. “We’ve brought our Lab named Elwood to the South Roxana Fire Department to give a hands-on demonstration on how to use the masks. Elwood’s dad (owner) is a trainer with Kennelwood and Elwood is quite the veteran with the masks.”
South Roxana joins the ranks of cities like Denver, Chicago and Memphis that have received donated pet oxygen masks from the Project Breathe program. The kit contains three different-size masks and hoses to connect to the air tank. The smaller masks can be used for cats.
“Last year we had a fire where four dogs lost their lives due to smoke inhalation,” Werner said. “I’m not sure having the masks would have been able to help, but it would have made a major difference if we would have been able to at least try. We want our citizens to know that we care and I’m sure it would mean the world to them if they are able to see us make an attempt. Even if we’re not successful, it may help them find closure or feel better for them to see us give it all we have.”
Pets often are seen as family members and owners frequently put themselves in danger to save their animals.
“We realize that humans are first priority, but in many cases, pets can be saved if firefighters have the right equipment,” Lee said. “The Project Breathe program is simply a way of giving firefighters the tools necessary to save pets’ lives.”
In many states, emergency responders are not equipped to face the situation because standard human equipment is not useful for pets. The loss of property is heart-breaking enough for a family, but to lose an animal is terrible and can be overwhelming for the family and firefighters as well.
“Most of us at the department are animal lovers and pet owners ourselves,” Werner said. “These masks truly are blessings for the South Roxana area. We’ve seen residents run back into burning homes to save a pet. It’s understandable but extremely dangerous. These masks will give residents comfort in knowing that we have the tools to possibly save their pets if they are suffering from smoke inhalation.”
The Wood River Fire Department also has pet rescue masks in their arsenal of life-saving equipment but has yet to use them.
“It’s better to have the equipment and not need it than it is to need it and not have it,” WRFD Capt. Wade Stahlhut said. “We’ve had the snout masks on our rigs for maybe three to four years now.”
Invisible Fence has set up a website, www.invisiblefence.com/O2, where other fire departments can make a request for the pet mask kit.