- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. (AP) - More than a dozen dogs, cats, rabbits and reptiles were caught in a fire in Northampton last week.

Some of them died in the blaze.

Others succumbed to smoke inhalation, and first responders were ready and able to save them.

“We saved a handful of them. We’re still not really sure how many animals died, but we treat animals much the same way as humans. They are just like a person, if they can’t breathe, we try to help,” said Northampton Fire Co. Chief Adam Selisker.

The firefighters used special oxygen masks for animals, which had been donated by an animal advocacy group, to give some of the dogs and cats oxygen. And members of the Tri-Hampton Rescue Squad transported four dogs to Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services (CARES) in Falls for treatment.

“It was unheard of, what they did,” said Denise Bash, founder of Animal Lifeline, based in Warrington. “They went out of their way to deal with numerous pets and handling animals at a time like this can be difficult. They did an outstanding job.”

Other local first responders said they will do what they can to save animals at a fire - as long as it doesn’t risk the safety of any of the human inhabitants or firefighters.

In Upper Bucks, Plumsteadville Fire Co. Chief Brian DuBree and Ottsville Fire Co. Chief Bill Shick said they have special oxygen masks that can be fitted for animals. Each said they also have some members who are trained in large animal rescues.

“A lot of times, we get called out for a horse that’s stuck in the mud or one that fell into a creek,” DuBree said.

The operation, DuBree said, only focuses on getting the animal to safety and does not involve resuscitation.

But if there is no other option, he said his crews will do everything they can to try and save an animal. DuBree added: “Sometimes even bad CPR is better than no CPR.”

Langhorne-Middletown Fire Co. Chief Frank Farry, whose department assisted on the Northampton call, said he and other company members have rescued numerous animals throughout the years.

“We don’t carry oxygen (cylinders) on our trucks, but if we can save animals and get them out of a burning building, we’re taking that chance,” said Farry, who once was knocked over by a cat literally leaping out a front door about 15 years ago on Atkinson Avenue in Middletown.

Farry said in his experience he’s found dogs to be more loyal than cats in that they most times stay inside the home, no matter how bad the fire is.

“Cats, while loyal, seem to want to get the heck out of a burning and smoky building,” Farry said. “One time, we were told a dog was still in a two-story home. I went upstairs and could barely see. Because I couldn’t see that well and the dog was on the bed under a blanket, we were unable to save him.”

Farry said a community member, who did not want to be identified, donated some animal oxygen masks to the Penndel-Middletown Emergency Squad about 14 years ago.

“We sometimes have to close a dog’s mouth and put the oxygen right into their nose or else it would go out the side of their mouth,” Farry said.

Selisker said he was glad to have the animal oxygen masks last week.

“Having the dedicated equipment gives you the know-how and confidence to deal with animals,” he said. “It makes you more likely to use the equipment properly.”

Central Bucks Ambulance squad Chief Chuck Pressler said his department doesn’t have the masks, but “we worked around it.”

“It certainly is rewarding to save a pet for a family that is distraught enough dealing with a fire or other tragedy,” he added.

Organizations like Animal Lifeline and Red Paw Emergency Relief Team - and at least one local veterinary hospital - regularly train first responders to help animals.

“We train groups about once a month. We teach CPR for animals and signs and symptoms of a sick animal and how to handle animals in stressful situations,” said Jen Leary, a retired Philadelphia firefighter and founder of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team.

Bash said it can be dangerous to handle an animal, so Animal Lifeline teaches firefighters how to handle animals and “evaluate what is going on at that moment.”

She remembered an incident in 2013, when, after training members how to handle animals at the Doylestown Fire Co., a fire broke out.

“There was a fire in Doylestown and based on his training, a firefighter found cats in the burning house. He was able to save two of them. I got a very emotional phone call from him about the incident telling me he knew what to do after the training,” she said.

Staff from Telford Veterinary Hospital will train the Levittown-Fairless Hills Rescue Squad and others in Bristol Township later this month.

Animal Lifeline, the SPCA and other animal advocacy groups also have donated oxygen masks, horse leads and other animal-specific items to some local police and fire departments.

Red Paw Emergency Relief Team also helps at the scenes of fires, accidents and other disasters. Leary said a representative from her group responded to the Northampton fire, but the homeowner declined assistance.

Northampton Fire Marshal Frank Fenton still is investigating the cause of the fire at the house on East Ridge Circle. He said he believes it started in the kitchen, but he has not yet determined how.

“We’re looking at a number of sources that may have started the fire. The kitchen has extensive damage and there is smoke damage throughout the house,” Fenton said.

“We still do not have a total number of animals that were in the house or the number that died or survived. The best number I can (say) is north of 10 and south of 20 animals.”

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Staff Writer Christian Menno contributed to this article.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2ch85OY

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Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com

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