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Oxygen masks help pets, pet owners breathe easier

Each year, up to 150,000 pets die in fires and more than 500,000 are affected by home fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Thanks to a new donation of pet oxygen masks, Lancaster County firefighters are hoping to reduce that number.

Invisible Fence, an organization that specializes in pet protection systems, began Project Breathe a few years ago with the goal of providing every fire department and rescue unit with pet oxygen masks.

So far, the organization has donated more than 10,000 to stations across the United States and Canada.

Now Lancaster County and its volunteer stations can add themselves to that list with the 18 pet oxygen masks from the organization.

David Holler, sales consultant for Invisible Fence of the Carolinas, based in Charlotte, said each oxygen kit contains three sizes - small, medium and large. The smallest size can fit breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, and the largest are made for mastiffs and similar breeds.

Each mask kit can cost about $50, but Invisible Fence donated the masks to Lancaster County.

Oxygen masks are something the organization believes in, Holler said.

"The typical oxygen mask for humans doesn't fit the frame of a dog's snout," he said. "Sometimes pets panic and they'll go to places they feel comfortable, such as under the bed, where they succumb to smoke inhalation."

Keith Wilson, training officer for Lancaster County Fire Service, agreed, saying they've even had pets come to the door and then run away from firefighters.

Wilson said the masks will be spread across the volunteer stations in the county, and they'll be undergoing training to make sure they are used properly.

"We carry oxygen on the trucks, but this makes it easier for us," he said.

Wilson said he thinks the additions will go over well, especially because some stations had already requested them.

The Lancaster Fire Department also received pet oxygen masks through Invisible Fence about two months ago, said Capt. Tony Gainer.

"We have them on each first-out engine," he said. "They're there if we run out into a situation and need them."

The department is happy to have the masks, he said, but has not needed to use them yet.

Holler said Invisible Fence has received feedback from fire stations across the nation that have used the masks. A station in Ohio reported saving a dog's life because they used one.

Wilson is expecting the masks to be an asset to Lancaster County as well.

"Pets are like family members," he said. "If we can make a difference, it'll be worth it."