Deputy Fire Chief Garth Rabel said the Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) is prepared to handle calls involving a fire, carbon monoxide leak, water rescue, etc. – and a new pet-rescue program adds another element to its toolkit.
“We’re talking about cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), O2 therapy or administration of oxygen, maintaining of airways, simple first aid to stop bleeding and then to safely manage them, package them and get them to where they need to go – much like a human patient,” he said.
Fire Chief Kevin Weinberger said getting all 67 members of the fire department fully trained in pet rescue took approximately one year.
“These guys went through a great amount of work to prepare for what we can do to help people and their pets …When you have someone in crisis, this (pet) is part of their family and we need to care for them better,” he said.
Platoon Captain Mike Pirie said the life-saving skills and equipment used to help people transfer over to caring for pets, with some subtle differences.
“We use the same oxygen we do for people and we use the same equipment to help them breath. The difference is specialized masks for animals,” he said.
“These masks are designed to fit right over the nose and then connected to an oxygen source.”
The masks come in a variety of sizes to fit a variety of pets. Firefighters can also perform CPR on a pet in distress, in much the same way they would with a person.
Each of the AFD’s fire trucks now carries a special set of equipment, including oxygen tanks, specialized nose masks, cat carriers and dog leashes to help the family pet in the case of an emergency.
The cat carriers and dog leashes are specifically intended to contain the pet until it can either be reunited with its owner or taken to a vet or other temporary location. Rabel said this is important to alleviate some of the stress the pet owner may be experiencing during what is generally a very stressful situation. These simple pieces of equipment can also protect firefighters from an animal in distress, which might be fearful and lashing out.
Rabel said responsible pet ownership is also important.
“If you’re calling the 911 system, and you know firefighters or paramedics are going to be coming because Grandpa’s not feeling well, control your pets,” he said.
“Lock them in a room, safe, because the last thing our team wants is to come in to work with Grandpa (and) find out Grandpa’s lap dog doesn’t want us touching him and now it becomes a problem.”
Ensuring your pets are included in the family escape plan is also important, Rabel said. This helps firefighters focus on the emergency situation.
“Typically, cats and dogs will hide. They’ll hunker down. If you leave a door open, they’ll get out – they’re not dumb,” he said.
He added keeping a foldable kennel or a leash in the bedroom can make it easier to get a frightened pet out of the home in case of an emergency, clearing the way for firefighters to do their job.