saving fluffy

Equipped with a pet rescue kit and a lifelike dog mannequin, Mt. Lebanon firefighters have learned how to resuscitate pets in emergencies. /Photo:Judy Macoskey

You can’t always protect your pets when a fire breaks out, but the Mt. Lebanon firefighters may be able to. The department has instructed its firefighters in pet rescue and resuscitation. Volunteer firefighter Kristopher Siegert, who also is practice manager at Bethel Park Animal Clinic, has led the effort.

“Part of the reason why we work on animal rescue and handling is that it doesn’t just save the lives of the animals—it can help save the lives of the humans who try to rescue them. Every year someone, somewhere, gets hurt or killed trying to save their pet from a fire. If they know that we are prepared to go in and try to save their pet, they are more likely to save themselves,” says Siegert.

Siegert showed his fellow firefighters how to use a variety of equipment that helps to safely rescue and perform CPR on most household animals, from a hamster to a Great Dane. Inside the station’s pet rescue kit, you can find two different sized oxygen masks and an air pump that supports oxygen flow in an unconscious animal. The kit also includes leashes, a muzzle and a catch pole, in case the firefighters struggle to handle a distressed pet. “Good pets are not necessarily good victims; they don’t understand what we are trying to do,” says Siegert. All of the equipment was donated by Bethel Park Animal Clinic, which Siegert runs with his wife, veterinarian Marina Siegert.

He has even supplied the firehouse with a dog manikin, often used alongside the human manikin in CPR training. Although all firefighters are required to learn human CPR, it’s not difficult to transfer that knowledge when trying to save the life of a pet. The major difference between human and pet CPR is positioning; a human victim receives CPR while on his or her back but a pet is on its side in order for chest compressions to properly work. Not all animals can be treated with chest compressions, since not all animals are built the same way. In that case, the oxygen mask and air pump are important tools in the pet rescue kit.

Dr. David Dorn, a veterinarian with the West Liberty Animal Hospital, says that while he doesn’t see animals in need of resuscitation often, it does happen. If your pet is unconscious, “chest compressions are the most important part of trying to keep an animal alive,” says Dorn. Depending on the situation after a fire rescue takes place, conscious and unharmed pets are returned to their owners if everyone escaped the fire without injury. However, even if your pet seems all right, it can be in its best interest to visit the vet after such a traumatic experience, just to make sure everything’s OK.

It’s always important to have updated fire safety measures installed in your home. One simple step you can take to protect your pet is fitting him or her with ID tags, with your contact information. Listing your cell phone number is a great form of identification, since many pets escape a fire, only to go missing afterwards, says Siegert. Microchipping your pet is also becoming more popular, so talk to your veterinarian to find out more information. Window or door stickers can alert rescuers that the home has a pet. Even though saving human lives is first priority for a firefighter, they do keep an eye out for animals that need help.

Fires aren’t the only rescue situations for pets. Firefighters can help if your pet finds itself in an awkward situation. Siegert has rescued a cat from a storm drain, freed deer that have been caught in fences and even helped a dog that got his paw caught in the latch of a car door.