Yellowknife's firefighters are now able to provide oxygen to dogs, cats, and other pets rescued from the city's homes in fires.
The introduction of oxygen masks for pets follows a similar move by some other fire departments. The City of Yellowknife has purchased kits and training for staff, allowing firefighters to help dogs, cats, reptiles, and birds caught in fires.
At the same time, fire crews asked residents to put up stickers at their homes indicating how many pets live there. The stickers are available from the fire hall.
"Pets have lungs just like humans do, right?" said firefighter Anton Sergeev as he demonstrated the new masks at Yellowknife's fire hall.
"They obviously have a tendency to have smoke inhalation, just like humans, during structural fires," said Sergeev. "During smoke inhalation injuries, pets may get confused and they will have shortness of breath, just like humans."
The push to get the masks came from the crews themselves, Sergeev said. They looked back at previous calls and felt there must have been something more they could have done for pets in fires.
Sergeev estimates six out of 10 fire calls in the city will involve one or more pets. Before they had the specially designed oxygen masks, firefighters would do their best to take animals out of homes – but there was little more they could do.
"We just took them out into the fresh air and hoped for them to come back – and in some cases they did, in some cases they didn't," Sergeev said.
"Now what's going to happen is, when we bring the pets out, we're going to deliver the oxygen therapy. Then municipal enforcement will assist us with taking the animals to the SPCA or a veterinarian and getting assessed right away."
Pets are often semi-conscious, confused, and limp when they are taken out of a house fire, so fitting a mask shouldn't be too hard, Sergeev said. Dogs can sometimes behave aggressively, so firefighters will use protective equipment and can apply a restraint rope around the dog's snout if needed.
Giving pets specialist care is important as they sometimes don't show symptoms right away, Sergeev explained. Problems may take 24 to 48 hours to develop, so a close eye needs to be kept on them.
Firefighters Jamie Stringer, left, and Anton Sergeev fit an oxygen mask onto six-month-old kitten Quana. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Learning how to use the masks was not too difficult, senior firefighter Jamie Stringer said, though the dogs they practised on were not always too happy about the exercise.
The priority for firefighters is protecting human lives and getting the fire under control, Sergeev said. Resuscitating pets will be done once those two priorities have been accomplished.
"If the structural fire is under control, if there are no humans lives that are in danger, then we can go ahead and help our little ones to have a better fighting chance," he told Cabin Radio.
Firefighters want pet owners to get involved in helping them keep their furry loved ones safe.
Stickers are now available at the fire hall for pet owners to put up at their front door. The stickers indicate to firefighters how many pets are in a home, and what species they are.