RUMFORD — After learning recently that life-saving oxygen masks were available for small pets — cats, dogs, birds and even reptiles — Brenda Meyer of Rumford bought two sets of the pet oxygen masks and donated them to the Rumford Fire Department.
Now she’s trying to get more for other River Valley area fire departments like Mexico, Dixfield and Peru.
“I’m sure all of us animal lovers that have pets think of them as family, so I just wanted to make sure that our pets in this community were covered,” Meyer said late Saturday afternoon. “I love doing things for animals and people.”
Meyer said she got the idea recently after seeing a young girl on television who was raising money to buy the masks for the Portland Fire Department, and from seeing them in use on cable TV’s “Animal Planet” show.
A pet lover herself — she’s got two cats, a new puppy and a parrot — Meyer said she checked with Rumford firefighters first and learned they didn’t have such equipment.
She then began checking online for less expensive but equally protective equipment and found the website of Wag’n Enterprises LLC, a company that markets pet products, including pet safety gear through their “O2 Fur Life” program.
Rumford fire Lt. Keith Bickford said the masks would mainly be used to revive pets overcome by smoke at fire scenes, but could also be used for dogs that get into emergency situations when swimming in area ponds and lakes or falling through ice.
“This is the first equipment in RFD’s inventory specifically intended to save the life of a family pet in respiratory distress caused by smoke inhalation,” Rumford firefighter Jeff Harren said on Saturday.
“Rumford fire, like most fire departments, is only funded for human life-saving equipment and that equipment is not suitable for animals,” Harren said.
“When used on animals, human equipment will not create the seal needed for sufficient oxygen to be administered to an animal due to the drastically different anatomical shapes of the upper airway.”
“It makes a big difference because the (firefighters’) oxygen masks just don’t fit pets and if they don’t get that proper oxygen mixture, it doesn’t have the same life-saving effect,” Meyer said.
Bickford recalled one incident several years ago where a family’s dog suffered smoke inhalation at a fire in Mexico. All they had were oxygen masks designed for humans.
“We tried to revive it, but sadly, it succumbed,” he said.
Harren said pet oxygen masks are formed to fit over an animal’s mouth and nostril (muzzle, beak or snout) and have an oxygen tube that will attach to oxygen cylinders and “bagging” equipment already carried on department firetrucks for human-assisted ventilation.
Three different size masks accommodate large, medium and small dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, ferrets and other animals.
Along with the masks, Bickford said they received training materials, including a DVD, that show how to assess and treat an animal in respiratory distress.
“Animals experiencing smoke inhalation present signs and symptoms similar to that of humans,” Harren said.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is also similar and, because of the emergency medical knowledge within the department, he said the Rumford Fire Department is now ready to assist a family pet in need.
“Even if treated by on-scene personnel, all pets exposed to smoke should be seen by a veterinarian immediately,” Harren said.
He said the added service would not distract from existing department services, nor would it impact the budget. After use, the equipment can be cleaned and used again.
Harren said one set of masks will be carried on Engine 7 and the other on Engine 8 in the emergency medical services compartments.
Engine 7 responds to fire calls in the Rumford and Mexico fire hydrant district; Engine 8 covers the areas of Rumford outside the hydrant district, and Hanover, Milton and the mutual aid communities.