Rescue 9-woof-woof

Published 10:19 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Firefighters are trained to save human lives.

But when they rush into an inferno and discover four-legged creatures – cats, dogs, ferrets, hamsters and the like – firefighters are just as quick to respond.

Now, thanks to a donation by the staff of local veterinarian Delmon Harbour, the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue’s ability to rescue animals has gotten much easier. After having several yard sales and taking donations from patrons, the East Constance Road veterinary clinic on Tuesday donated 11 oxygen masks, made specifically for animals, to the department.

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“It’s a great addition to our tool box,” said Fire Chief Mark Outlaw. “In the past, we have been limited how much we could assist … because most emergency apparatus are designed for humans.

“We have to save all lives.”

The department already had two animal oxygen masks, which cost approximately $60 each. With the new ones, every frontline engine will be permanently equipped with an animal mask.

The pet masks have a rubber seal that are designed to fit over an animal’s muzzle, which makes it easier for firefighters to deliver the right amount of oxygen to the animals, said Battalion Chief John Hoffler. Each dome-shaped mask has three sizes, which will vary depending on the size of the four-legged patients. The smallest can be used to cover the snout of a Chihuahua or a hamster; feasibly, if firefighters removed the rubber casing, the largest could be used to deliver oxygen to a cow rescued from a barn fire, Hoffler said.

Before animal oxygen masks, firefighters would use mouth-to-snout resuscitation or human oxygen masks, Outlaw said. That sometimes demands creativity; for example, Hoffler recalls using a fire helmet and towel to give oxygen to a kitten.

Bobby Umphlett, who lives on Holland Road, was glad to learn of the donation. About nine years ago, when his mobile home caught fire, Suffolk firefighters were able to rescue and ultimately save four cats that were inside the building.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “A lot of people think a lot of their pets. They treat them like family.

“They (firefighters) went way above the call of duty to save my cats.”

Umphlett’s cats received oxygen at the fire scene and were then taken to the vet, he said. One stayed in the vet’s office for over a month.

“They got a lot of smoke and soot in their lungs. One of those those cats is still living today.”