Each year in the United States, thousands of people lose their lives to fire. Tens of thousands are injured and the financial costs can reach into the billions of dollars. Almost forgotten in these tragedies are the hundreds of thousands of family pets who suffer death or injury as well.
Fire is a very scary thing! We use controlled fires to heat our water, cook our meals and power our cities, but for most people, fire is a wild, ravaging beast. And, despite educational programs that start in pre-school, every year more than three thousand people die in house fires. Sadly, those who survive a house fire often lose cherished four-legged family members to the smoke and flames.
According to the US Fire Administration’s website (www.usfa.dhs.gov), more than 1.7 million uncontrolled fires occur annually in the US. The Fire Administration does not keep tally, but other groups have estimated that more than 500,000 pets are killed by house fires each year. Why are we so good at saving human lives, but our pets seem to perish?
One potential answer is the presence of smoke alarms in our homes. For more than 30 years, laws have required the presence of these life-saving devices in any home or apartment. In fact, the Public/Private Fire Safety Council has called for an elimination of residential fire deaths by the year 2020 and smoke alarms figure prominently in their plan. But the high pitched alarm that saves so many human lives is not helpful for saving our pets.
We all realize that it’s time to evacuate when the alarm sounds, but our pets don’t know that. Worse yet, the unknown sound could scare a pet into hiding, increasing our own risk for harm as we search for the missing kitty or pup.
And, the sad fact is that many pets will die in house fires because they are unable to get out of the home. This often happens when the family is away. Rescue personnel are frequently unaware of pets needing help.
The heroic efforts of firefighters may save some pets from the flames, but damage from smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation can overwhelm many. Life-saving equipment, such as oxygen masks, is usually designed for people meaning some animals may die en-route to the veterinarian.
Fortunately, many diverse groups are working to improve the survival chances of pets caught in fires. Many concerned groups, from alarm monitoring companies, like ADT Security, to local veterinarians and humane organizations are looking to save the half a million pets lost each year
As with many tragedies, preventing the occurrence is the best first step. Pet owners are urged to “pet proof” their home and look for potential fire hazards. Always extinguish open flames before leaving your home and consider keeping younger puppies and kittens confined to prevent them from accidentally starting a fire.
Firefighters are trained to look for window alert signs and make attempts to save pets. These “window clings” are often available from the American Kennel Club or visit ADT’s website (www.adt.com) to obtain a free one. Beyond using the signs, you should always update them as new pets arrive in your family!
If you return home to a burning building, you should not attempt to enter, trying save your pets! This is difficult but you need to let the professionals do their job and rescue your animals.
As mentioned, working smoke alarms are helpful to the humans, but if you aren’t there to hear the alarm, your pets could be trapped inside. According to Bob Tucker, PR Director of ADT Security, pet owners should consider monitored smoke detection services as an extra precaution. By alerting the fire department more quickly, these services increase the chances that your pets will get out safely.
Finally, due to the efforts of local veterinarians and animal volunteers, many rescue services across the nation now have access to “animal-appropriate” oxygen masks. These devices help deliver life-saving oxygen more effectively and will increase the chance of your pet’s survival. Other veterinarians teach courses on effective animal CPR techniques to first responders.
Saving pets from the horrors of fire will be easier thanks to dedicated fire fighting professionals, alarm companies, veterinarians and humane organizations all working together. To keep up to date on all pet related news, be sure to visit www.MyVNN.com or www.PetDocsOnCall.com for the latest and most trustworthy pet health information.
Debra Garrison, DVM