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Protecting Pets: What Firefighters Can – and Can’t – Do

The Haddam Volunteer Fire Co. is here to help our animal friends whenever possible, but in the dangerous business of fighting fires, it's often a judgment call whether or not to go in after a pet.

“You guys rescue cats in trees, right?” my dad once asked.

“No. I mean, it doesn’t really happen,” I said. “But I’m sure we would.”

Of course we would. We see compelling headlines like Firefighters Rescue Pets all the time. Who wouldn’t want to read about firefighters bravely putting their lives on the line to save an animal?

Last month, San Antonio firefighters revived 10 cats and two dogs that were trapped inside a burning house. Once the fire was under control, they used donated pet oxygen masks to resuscitate the animals.

No one denies their heart, despite the fact that the homeowner was an animal hoarder and some of the animals – most burned or critically affected by smoke – didn’t make it. The bigger picture is that firefighters are compassionate about their animal friends. My wife and I have two dogs and 8 chickens at home.

So what is the Haddam Volunteer Fire Co.’s protocol when it comes to pet rescues?

“It’s really a judgment call whether or not to go in after a pet,” said 2nd Assistant Chief Bob Norton, whose Dalmatian Booster is the department’s mascot. “If conditions are favorable, pets will often be taken outside while the fire is extinguished.”

The Fire Company’s primary goal is saving lives – human lives. However, when it’s not a significant risk, firefighters are willing to assist family pets, farm animals and wildlife – especially if not doing something might cause an untrained person to take chances. Each year, pet owners go onto thin ice to rescue their pets, only to fall through themselves. Those stories tend not to end well for owner or pet.

Obviously when disaster strikes, family pets can become victims, too. Trauma, smoke inhalation or burns have the same catastrophic effects on animals as they do on people. Whenever possible, Haddam firefighters – most who have pets at home – will try and save an animal.

Haddam firefighters came to a house filling with smoke from a lamp smoldering under some blankets. The homeowners begged them to retrieve their family pet. The men, wearing Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, delivered the beloved pet – a small iguana – safely into their arms.

If a fire has spread and firefighters cannot safely mount an interior attack, however, the search for lost pets will likely be called off. This unfortunate fact makes maintaining working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors all the more important. They protect your loved ones, and if you’re like most people, “loved ones” means pets, too.

If you own an out-building such as a barn, consider installing a remote alarm system. In the event of a fire, you and the Fire Company will be notified sooner, allowing for a rescue before conditions deteriorate around your pets or livestock.

While there are many happy outcomes for lost or scared pets, scared animals are defensive animals that can pose a threat to Emergency Responders. Please keep a watchful eye on them, calm and restrain them if necessary, and in case of a fire, figure them into your escape plan.

During prolonged power outages after storms, check local shelters to see if pets can be brought in. If not, make arrangements for them to be cared for that include being fed, watered and able to relieve themselves. A neighbor with a generator may be able to check on them, or a “doggie hotel” a few towns over may have power and able to provide temporary housing. As with anyone relocating, please make sure to take along food, medicines, a familiar toy and bedding.

Lastly, cold weather adversely affects animals just like humans. Winter can be a season of bitter cold and numbing wetness. The Humane Society reminds everyone not to leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops. Most dogs, and all cats, are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. No matter what the temperature, windchill can threaten a pet’s life.

Here are their winter pet care recommendations:

 If your dog spends a lot of time outside
A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If for some reason your dog is outdoors much of the day, he or she must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

Keep feral and stray cats warm
If there are ferals or strays in your neighborhood, remember that they need protection from the elements. It’s easy to give them shelter.

Keep the water flowing
Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.

Be careful with cars
Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

Safety and salt
The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet. Wipe all paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.

Avoid antifreeze
Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.


For more information on the activities of the Haddam Volunteer Fire Co. and ways you can get involved, visit our website www.HaddamFire.com, or look for us on Facebook.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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