Special masks help rescued NY animals that need oxygen

By Anne Neville
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Animals pulled from burning houses in Tonawanda and Kenmore now have a better chance at survival, thanks to Project Breathe.

First responders from seven fire departments and one paramedic agency gathered Monday morning to accept donations of kits containing masks designed to save animals suffering from smoke inhalation.

"We have all been at fires where an animal needed oxygen or first aid," said Felix Coniglio, past chief and current commissioner and day captain at the Village of Kenmore Fire Department. "Losing a pet in a fire is just like losing a loved one."

Project Breathe representative Chris Shand asked the assembled firefighters and paramedics how they knew an animal was in the house when they arrived at a house fire.

"The people are screaming and yelling, saying, 'My cats!' " said Kenmore firefighter Dave Kimmins, who attended the event with Montana, his 10-year-old Rottweiler-golden retriever mix.

After the group received instructions on using the masks, Montana and Snickers, a 4-year-old yellow lab owned by Kenmore firefighter Bob Moreland, demonstrated the fit of the masks with the help of some treats placed inside.

Each kit contains three different sized masks, with the smallest ones appropriate for cats or dogs with short snouts, such as pugs or bulldogs.

The masks allow rescuers to provide oxygen to animals who are breathing but unconscious from smoke inhalation or to provide rescue breathing for animals that have stopped breathing but still have a pulse.

While oxygen masks designed for humans are wide and only slightly curved, the masks for pets are deep and bell-shaped to fit over the nostrils and mouth up to the eyes. "We can all relate to rescuing a dog or cat or other animal," said Coniglio. "Holding a mask [designed for people] in front of them isn't getting them the concentration of oxygen that they need."

In the past few years, Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company firefighters have pulled several pets from house fires and had to give the animals oxygen, said Brett Rider, a captain in the department. "This will come in handy, rather than doing on-scene modifications with equipment designed for people," he said.

The mask kits were donated to the Kenmore Fire Department, the Kenilworth Volunteer Fire Company, Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Company, Elwood Fire District, Brighton Volunteer Fire Company and the River Road Volunteer Fire Company, the Town of Tonawanda Paramedic Unit, all in the Town of Tonawanda, and the City of Tonawanda Fire Department.

Project Breathe, a nonprofit organization operated by Invisible Fence, was founded in 2007 and has provided more than 10,000 pet oxygen masks to first responders in the United States and Canada. The organization estimates that between 40,000 and 150,000 animals die each year in structure fires.

The organization distributed 20 oxygen mask kits to Cheektowaga fire companies in late February and plans to hand them out to nine Hamburg fire departments next week.

"We want to equip every fire department in the United States and Canada with the mask kits," said Casey Wiederhold, an events director for Project Breathe.

Any fire department representative interested in receiving a pet oxygen mask kit should call 741-1566 or go to invisiblefence.com/O2 and fill out a request.

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