Animal oxygen masks donated to Tukwila Fire

The masks fit animals of all sizes to protect them in an emergency.

Pet owners in Tukwila can now be reassured that their pets can get the proper care if trapped in a fire.

The Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) donated animal oxygen masks to the Tukwila Fire Department in January.

According to Gene Mueller, a veterinary and the manager at RASKC, these masks are made to fit different sized animals to ensure no air from the masks gets out, allowing the animal to get the most oxygen they can get in order to survive after being stuck in a fire.

“The sets that we donated have three different sizes in them, with the largest being literally like a large dog snout and then going down in size from there,” Mueller said. “Each one of the kits that we donated has three separate various sized masks in them so we can accommodate most animals.”

Mueller said these are the same masks that are used in a vet hospital.

According to Jay Wittwer, Tukwila Fire chief, using these animal oxygen masks is not much different than human masks, making them simple to apply to different sized animals.

“The use of the actual device is different because it’s shaped different and its a different application, but much of the science is the same,” Wittwer said. “High-flow oxygen is the prescribed treatment for smoke inhalation, whether it be a human or whether it be an animal.”

The department has not started using the masks yet, as they are still going through the basic training on how to use the masks.

Wittwer said he has had first-hand experiences using the masks during his time fighting fires in Nevada. He said he worked there for 10 years before coming to Tukwila.

There is no animal the department won’t try to save, according to Wittwer.

“If the animal has some type of breathing that’s going on when we get them outside and are able to administer a high oxygen treatment to them, they rebound, they survive and animals in general are very resilient,” Wittwer said. “Over the years I have pulled dozens of animals out of homes, the city I worked at in (was) a very busy, very densely populated (city) in the Las Vegas Valley. I have had the opportunity to do that (save animals). Just various types of animals, ferrets and birds, even fish that we took an aquarium outside to get it out of the smoky conditions.”

Wittwer said if firefighters find a cage with an animal in it, they will grab it — after they have saved all human lives — and take it outside of the burning building to better its chance for survival.

He said the faster the fire fighters are able to give the animal oxygen, the better chance there will be for it to survive.

“Five years ago I was on a scene where we had two dogs that were inside of a home that caught fire and they suffered severe smoke inhalation and two of the fire fighters actually worked on these two animals using the pet rescue masks and were able to revive both of those pets and they were returned to the owner,” Wittwer said. “I saw those two animals myself when they were pulled out of the building and I didn’t think they would survive. They were unconscious, they were having very restricted breathing, but the high flow oxygen really made a difference for them.”

Once a building on fire has been searched once, and all humans have gotten out, Wittwer said the firefighters do an in-depth search for small animals because they do not flee if they are trapped.

Mueller said these masks not only save the lives of the animals but also puts the owner as ease knowing their pet has a better chance of survival.

“It has sort of an added benefit of giving the anxious family member a tool to help them with the animal,” he said. “They’re part of our family, so people look at pets as part of their family. So as much as we want the best for our parents and our children, we also want the best for our pets and this is really a heroic opportunity that Tukwila Fire is willing to look at and implement.”

Wittwer said these masks will make a difference in the community and will help animals that are stuck in a fire live.

“I’m really proud to be partnering with them and it’s a great progressive department and a fantastic city. We try and help all of the residents, all the residents in Tukwila,” Mueller said.

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