- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

Loudoun County officials are turning their attention to the furriest of fire victims by putting pet-sized oxygen masks in every fire station and teaching firefighters how to use them.

“Many people see their pets as members of their families,” said Janette Reever, a county animal-control supervisor who has helped with the training.

The pet masks fit around an animal’s mouth more snugly than human ones, thus giving the pets more oxygen.

About 150 people so far have been trained, and the masks have been put in 13 of 20 stations, said Capt. Joseph Sullivan, a spokesman for the county fire department. Officials expect to supply the remaining stations by the end of this week.

The masks come in sets of three sizes — small, medium and large — to fit pets from cats to Great Danes. They can be attached to standard oxygen tanks.

The masks were purchased through public donations of more than $1,500 to the Loudoun County Animal Care and Control Trust Fund.

During a training session last week, veterinarian Karen Iovino of the Blue Ridge Veterinarian Associates in Purcellville taught firefighters basic first aid for cats, dogs and horses, particularly how to tell when an animal has smoke inhalation and how to restrain and rehydrate a frightened pet.

She said cats are more susceptible than other animals to smoke inhalation and that watching them breathe is key to detecting a problem.

“Cats do not breathe with their mouths open unless severely stressed,” Dr. Iovino said.

She said horses are difficult to treat because of their size and inability to breathe through their mouth, so they need an oxygen tube inserted directly into a nostril.

At the recent training session, Dr. Iovino brought along her dog, Mona, who patiently sat as firefighters muzzled her, then fit a mask over her nose.

Firefighters at Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company Station 20 said they rarely find animals in house or barn fires. But when they do, their options are limited without specialized equipment.

“It is probably something we run into only once or twice a year,” Capt. Sullivan said. “But now we have something when it does happen.”

The masks are made by SurgiVet, a Wisconsin-based company. They have been bought by people and animal-activist groups and donated to fire departments in about 13 states.

Ms. Reever and Dr. Iovino went to Mississippi last year to help pets injured in Hurricane Katrina.

Ms. Reever said firefighters call the animal-control office when they find an animal in a burning building, but the animal-control officers often arrive too late.

“Firefighters are the first responders,” she said. “A lot of time they use human masks, but it doesn’t give good seals. Hopefully, these will give [animals] a fighting chance.”

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