Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 27, 2008

Oxygen for animals: Firefighters to carry masks to help pets stuck in fires

By Brian Messenger

Andover firefighters long have had the ability to offer oxygen to people at the scene of a fire.

Now they can do the same for dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and other four-legged friends of homeowners.

Thanks to a recent donation to the Andover Fire Rescue Department, starting next month all three fire stations will be equipped with oxygen mask sets for animals. The masks were donated by the Main Street Animal Hospital in Salem, N.H.

"It's just another service we'll be able to provide to the community if the situation arises, and at no cost," said Andover fire Chief Michael Mansfield. "Now we have something that's designed specifically to begin the treatment process for these pets before we get someone to transport them to the animal hospital."

According to Dr. Kimberly Wadsworth, a member of the Andover Animal Hospital staff, the ability to begin treatment for smoke inhalation at the site of a fire will increase the chances for pets' survival.

"The faster you can get it into them, the better the outcome you're going to have," said Wadsworth of the oxygen, which is delivered at a rate of one to two liters per minute. "You want as tight a seal as possible so that you're not having oxygen leaking out of the sides."

Andover Fire Rescue received three sets of masks. In all, 20 sets were distributed to area fire departments as part of the hospital's annual fundraiser.

Mansfield said each set includes three different sizes of oxygen masks. The equipment, manufactured by a New Zealand-based company, can be used on a variety of animals.

"They all have different snout sizes," said Mansfield. "They can be used for just about any sized animal, as long as the animal is tolerant to have its nose put in the cup to breathe the oxygen."

In the past, Mansfield said he has had to treat pets for smoke inhalation using a oxygen mask designed for humans.

Because the masks don't fit the pets correctly, the animals receive less oxygen, he said.

"Just surrounding them with that oxygen atmosphere will get rid of the contaminants from the smoke," said Mansfield. "It operates the same exact way as a regular oxygen mask would on a regular patient."

Mansfield said firefighters often find pets while searching a home during a fire.

"A lot of the pets, when a fire occurs like that, they try to hide in a safe place," said Donna Pirolli, manager of the Main Street Animal Hospital in Salem, N.H. "A couple of days later is usually when they start developing some (smoke inhalation) symptoms."

Pirolli said her staff decided to use the money from its annual fundraiser on oxygen masks after they treated two dogs for smoke inhalation as a result of a New Year's Eve house fire in Salem.

"Obviously, it was an emergency," said Pirolli. "The owner was very grateful that we took them in right away.

"They need to get the oxygen to clean that out," said Pirolli. "They do great once you get them in here and on oxygen, which is now what the firemen will do on-site."