While fire departments are ready to battle blazes and rescue victims at a moment’s notice, not every fire department is equipped to assist pets affected by smoke inhalation.

With new pet oxygen masks donated by Invisible Fence’s Project Breathe program, the Waco Fire Department will be able to help pets on the scene of a fire and hopefully reduce the number of pet fatalities, according to a news release.

Each year, it’s estimated more than 40,000 pets die in fires, most of which are because of smoke inhalation. In most cases, first responders lack the equipment to resuscitate and save these animals. Since Project Breathe’s inception in 2006, a total of 31,000 masks have been donated to first responders, and nearly 800 animal lives have been saved.

Assistant Chief Jason Rawlins said the masks are easy to use on animals — from dogs and cats to rabbits and gerbils — if they are unconscious. It's trickier if they are awake. Putting an unknown object near an animal’s face if it is already anxious and panicked can induce a fight or flight response.

When the animals engage in self-defense, they may end up harming those who are trying to help them. Rawlins said it’s all about “watching how stressed the animal is, and not contributing to that.”

Along with teaching firefighters how to use the oxygen masks, Rawlins is looking for a class to teach his firefighters how to perform CPR on dogs and cats.

"Anything we can do to better serve our community and the public passing through our response area is our number one goal," Rawlins said in the release.

The Waco Fire Department is grateful for the donation, according to Rawlins, but wanted to emphasize that this equipment will be available only at the scene of a fire and if there are no other safety concerns. For other pet emergencies, residents should call a veterinarian or animal hospital.

In the case of an emergency, residents can let firefighters know there are pets in the home by placing a label at the entryway or giving 911 dispatchers the details as in the number and type of animals living there. Dispatchers can then can pass that information on to responding firefighters, Madison County E911 Director Wendy Lynch said.

"There are a lot of ways to let us know you have a pet," Lynch said in the release.

Madison County E911 also uses smart 911.

With this feature, residents can add key information about members of your household that would help anyone in the household in the event of an emergency, whether the call is from the home or any mobile phone.

Lynch said residents can add as much or as little information about vehicles, pets and service animals, along with any special notes they would want responders to know.

"No matter where you or your loved ones are, you can always have peace of mind that responders will know any critical medical condition and how to help before they even arrive, and your information will only be seen if you ever have to call 911," Lynch said.

Signing up for Smart911 is free and can be done at smart911.com

For more on Project Breathe, visit invisiblefence.com/why-invisible-fence/project-breathe.

Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.

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