(Reuters) - Soon after millions of Floridians lost power in the wake of Hurricane Irma last week, firefighters in the city of Titusville responded to an emergency call at a home where a gasoline-powered generator had been running in an attached garage.
Arriving at the house, they discovered 10 victims of carbon monoxide-poisoning in desperate need of oxygen: eight people and two dogs. Luckily the department was ready to treat all of them.
Like thousands of other fire departments and rescue squads across the country, Titusville first-responders carry special masks as standard equipment to deliver oxygen to dogs, cats and other pets in the city, about 40 miles east of Orlando.
“A pet mask would be specific to the pet’s anatomy,” said Battalion Chief Greg Sutton at the Titusville Fire Department. “Like anything, if it’s meant for you, then it’s going to work well for you.”
The masks have a cylindrical shape that fits over the snout of a small animal. They attach to a tube that hooks up to the same oxygen used for humans.
After paramedics treated the people during their Sept. 12 call, they decided to give the dogs about 20 minutes of oxygen because of the high levels of carbon monoxide inside the house, Sutton said. Oxygen helps the body -- human or animal -- flush out the poison, he added.
All members of the household survived the ordeal, including two pet pythons that paramedics did not treat, he said.
The pet masks, which are mostly used to treat smoke inhalation, cost only $80 to $90 for a set of three sizes, but Sutton said a pet lover donated them.
The attention that rescue squads are giving to animals reflects the passion many residents have for their pets in emergencies.
“We’ve even done mouth-to-mouth on animals,” said Don Walker, spokesman for the Brevard County Fire Rescue in Florida.
Leading a drive to equip every fire and rescue squad in North America with pet oxygen masks is Ines De Pablo of Vancouver, Washington, who says her not-for-profit Wag‘N O2 Fur Life is the biggest supplier in the country.
De Pablo, a pet emergency management consultant who says she gets no salary from her oxygen mask business, said she started her campaign after hearing that more than 800,000 pets died in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It just completely tore me up, and I decided that day, I‘m done with the human aspect of emergency management,” she said. “I have to focus on the pets, because there’s no one to really advocate for them.”
De Pablo’s innovation was taking oxygen masks that were already being made for veterinarians and making the three-size kits available to emergency responders.
“It fits anything from a newborn hamster to a foal,” she said.
De Pablo said about 85 to 90 percent of sales are to charities that donate them to fire and rescue squads, and the rest are direct sales to first responders.
She estimates that 7,000 fire departments and 1,250 ambulances in North America are equipped with pet masks, but adds she has reached only a fraction of the total.
“We’re trying to get these masks on every single fire truck across the United States and Canada,” she said.
(This version of the story, in the second paragraph changes “two adults, six children” to “eight people.” Also changes in 6th paragraph to “people”, not “family”)
Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, editing by Marcy Nicholson