By Dr. Becker
July 15 is "National Pet Fire Safety Day," a day devoted to helping reduce the estimated 500,000 pets impacted by home fires every year. Most pet owners (88 percent) consider their pets family members,1 which means they should definitely be included in your fire escape plan.
You don't have a fire escape plan, you say? Make today the day you create one – it could literally save your life, and that of your pets.
A Pet-Friendly Fire Escape Plan
If fire is spreading rapidly through your home, you could have as little as two minutes to get out safely. This is where your previous fire safety drills will be life-saving, as you won't have to think about what to do in the middle of a crisis, you'll already have your plan in place.
Start by identifying two ways out of each room (such as a window and a door), and establish a meeting location outside where all family members should gather. The best way to protect your pets in the event you have to evacuate is to bring them with you. Keep a collar on your dog, and leashes and cat carriers in an easy-to-access spot near an exit point so you can grab them on your way out.
Pets will probably panic at the smell of smoke and sight of fire, so secure dogs on a leash and put your cat in a carrier if at all possible. Otherwise they may bolt once you get outdoors. Having a few "kennel slip leads" (those thin nylon leashes with a metal ring on the end that you double back through the nylon rope to create an easy-on, easy off collar and leash, in one) are invaluable in emergency situations.
You probably already know your pet's favorite hiding spots, but if you don't, make it a point to locate them now. If a fire starts, your pet will likely make a bee-line for her 'safe' spot as soon as she hears the alarm, so check there first.
If you have birds or other caged animals, decide ahead of time who will be in charge of taking them to your outdoor meeting spot – assuming you can safely do so, of course.
It might not always be possible for you to find or reach your pet before you evacuate. In this case, leave an outside door open and call your pet's name. Hopefully he will hear your voice and make his way out to you. Be persistent and loud … and don't give up. It may take time for your pet to work up the courage to come to your voice.
What if a Fire Starts When You're Not Home?
Pets can't let themselves out if a fire starts, which is why a bit of pre-planning can be life-saving if a fire starts when you're away from home. You may even want to consider using a monitored smoke detection service, so firefighters can be called at the first sign of smoke (even if you're not home).
When you'll be leaving your pets home alone it's a good idea to secure them in rooms near entrances. You can do this using your dog's crate or with the use of gates to close off a certain room, for instance.
This will be more challenging with cats, but if your home allows you to close off a front room or section of the house to contain your cats while you're away, it will be easier for firefighters to locate them in an emergency.
Another simple life-saving trick? Affix a pet alert window cling to a front window, in an easy-to-spot location. This decal includes the number of pets in your home so rescuers know who to look for when they enter your home. Firefighters are trained to look for these stickers, so be sure to keep it up to date if you add another pet to your family.
Pets Start 1,000 House Fires a Year
According to the National Fire Protection Association, pets cause more than 1,000 house fires every year,2 so aside from knowing how to keep your pets safe if a fire starts, it's essential to pet-proof your home against potential fire hazards.
Pets accidentally start fires more often than you might think. The American Kennel Club (AKC) reported one such story of Chris and Kay Wardlow of Oklahoma:3
"Their curious dog Lucy was home alone and spied a cake on the stove top. As Lucy tried to get a taste, her paw accidentally hit the stove knob and turned on the gas burner that was under the cake pan.
Within minutes, the house was filled with smoke, triggering the Wardlow's … monitored smoke detector. Firefighters were called to the scene, the house was saved and Lucy was rescued."
To help prevent your pet from starting a fire, be sure to use these tips from the AKC:4
- Extinguish open flames: Don't leave pets unattended around any open flame – candles, cooking appliances, your fireplace, etc. And, of course, be sure to thoroughly extinguish open flames if you're leaving your home.
- Remove stove knobs: A stove or cook top is the most common piece of equipment involved when pets start fires. Removing the knobs (or protecting them with child- and pet-proof covers) when you leave home is the simplest way to protect against this.
- Choose flameless candles: Candles are another common trigger of pet-caused fires, especially if you have cats (who can easily knock over a candle with their tail). A flameless candle gives you the ambience you're after without an actual flame.
- Avoid using glass water bowls on a wooden deck: If it's hot outside, the sun's rays can heat up the bowl enough to actually ignite a wooden deck. A stainless steel or ceramic bowl for your pet's drinking water won't cause this problem.
- Pet proof your home: Other potential fire hazards include electrical wires and power cords, which should be secured out of your pet's reach.
Does Your Local Fire Department Have Pet Oxygen Masks?
Smoke inhalation is a major cause of death from house fires (for pets and people alike), which is why having access to oxygen can significantly increase your pet's chances of survival after being rescued from a burning home. Fortunately, oxygen masks designed especially for pets are available and becoming more widespread at fire departments across the United States.
In the short video above, first responders in Texas demonstrate use of a pet oxygen mask, which can be lifesaving. They can be used both on conscious pets who are suffering from smoke inhalation and pets who have lost consciousness and need to be resuscitated.
How can you find out if your local fire department carries pet oxygen masks? The best way is to give them a call and ask. If they don't and you're interested in getting involved, ask them if they're interested in carrying such kits and, if so, how many they would need and in what sizes.
Wag'N O2 Fur Life5 offers oxygen kits for pets that cost $75 each, with three different size masks that can be used on dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and more.
You can purchase kits for your local fire department that does not have the budget for the masks or has been unable to find a local sponsor to attain one. Alternatively, you can join a fellowship program online and receive donations from others to help provide the kits.
Either way, donating pet oxygen mask kits to your local fire and/or EMS department is an outstanding way for pet lovers to give back to their communities.