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Norwich Fire Service receives donation of pet oxygen masks from Invisible Fence

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Norwich firefighters are now better prepared to rescue furry inhabitants alongside their human homeowners.

A recent donation of pet oxygen masks has equipped each Norwich fire station with a kit to help treat pets suffering from smoke inhalation.

“The idea is very similar to what we use on people. We put oxygen masks on people if they’re having trouble breathing or they’ve been exposed to smoke,” said Norwich Township fire chief Paul Groeneveld.

The masks came from Invisible Fence, a North American company that creates electric fences and other dog safety products.

“One of our dealers a number of years back found out how many pets were perishing in fires every year in North America. Anywhere between 40,000 and 120,000,” said Gayle Bailey, who runs Invisible Fence in southwestern Ontario with her husband.

Since 2006, when Invisible Fence began “Project Breathe” and started donating equipment to fire departments, the masks have saved hundreds of pets.

A July house fire in Norwich that claimed the lives of two cats (another two were rescued) was the catalyst for Bailey and Invisible Fence to target the Norwich Township Fire Service for their next donation.

“We have saved a couple of pets, just recently actually,” Groeneveld said.

He said it’s easy to train firefighters on using the masks. The kits come with three sizes of oxygen masks to treat animals small and large.

“They just go over the nose of the pet,” Groeneveld said.

“It’s a really low learning curve, because we already do it for humans. It’s just a matter of adapting the nose cones onto the oxygen (supply).”

Finding pets in a fire is already a tricky task, Groeneveld said.

“It’s more luck than anything, to find them. They tend to hide – we tell people not to, but it’s kind of difficult to tell pets not to – so (they're found) if we come across them, or if the owner knows what room they frequent, what they consider their “safe place,” then we’ll look there,” he said.

Norwich Veterinary Service, which helped Bailey demonstrate the masks to Norwich firefighters, said there are some steps pet owners can take to try and protect their furry friends.

“Probably the best thing is to have an emergency sticker on the door,” said Deb Austin, office manager at Norwich Veterinary Service, where pet owners can find these stickers.

“If there is an emergency and the fire (department) has to come, there’s a sticker on the door that tells you how many pets are in the house. (Firefighters) can see right away, okay ‘there’s supposed to be two cats and a dog.’”

Austin said smoke inhalation generally claims pets before they are touched by the flames.

With the help of the masks, Norwich firefighters can now treat cats or dogs right outside a fire.

Firefighters aren't animal experts, but the oxygen is a good first step, Groeneveld said

“We can give them oxygen until they can be taken to the vet to get checked out.”

megan.stacey@sunmedia.ca

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