‘All life is precious’

Photos by Karen Zautyk Serendipitous raccoon [see story for explanation] awaits application of KFD’s new oxygen mask.
Photos by Karen Zautyk
Serendipitous raccoon [see story for explanation] awaits application of KFD’s new oxygen mask.

The latest rescue equipment acquired by the Kearny Fire Department cost only $109, but to animal-lovers, it is priceless. Its value cannot be measured in money.

What that $109 bought were three animal oxygen masks — and their necessary accoutrements — the better to save the lives of cats and dogs, and maybe other pets, that are rescued from fires.

Heretofore, if a dog or cat were removed unconscious or in respiratory distress from a burning building, firefighters could perform CPR in hopes of reviving it, but providing it with oxygen was problematic since the masks designed for humans are just too big. (However, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is not unheard of. Firefighters do what they can to save a life, even a nonhuman one.)

But earlier this month, the KFD took delivery of the pet masks, which come in three sizes: Small, for a feline or flatsnout canine, and medium and large, for other dogs. They are also flexible, to enable a better fit. In January, all members of the department will be trained in their use, along with lessons in the latest guidelines for pet CPR, KFD Chief Steve Dyl said.

“Veterinarians have been using the masks for years,” Dyl noted, but their use by fire departments is steadily increasing. He believes the first to take advantage of the technology was the Austin, Texas, FD.

Kearny purchased the masks from an organization called Pets America, which has been in the forefront of promoting their use. (You can learn all about the devices — as well as how to perform pet CPR sans masks — at PetsAmerica.org. It also has a page on Facebook.)

And how did all this come about? We were told that the idea was first presented to the town by Barbara Goldberg, Kearny’s official photographer, who also takes photos for the community’s TNR (Trap-Neuter- Return) program, which is committed to curtailing, and caring for, the local feral cat population.

“I’m a pet lover,” Goldberg told us, “and I noticed an increase in fires in Harrison and Kearny, and around the state, where pet rescues were involved. I did some research, and last May, I spoke at a Council meeting, presenting the pet oxygen mask idea.” Members of the governing body, especially Fire Committee chair Eileen Eckel, “were very receptive,” Goldberg said.

Then it was the KFD’s turn to do some research. Capt. Joseph Mastandrea completed the assignment and recommended the Pets America equipment.

The three masks already purchased will be used for the January training program, Dyl said, adding, “After the training is completed, we will purchase a set for every apparatus — eight sets in total.”

That way, no matter what engine or truck responds to a fire, the pet life-saving equipment will be available.

“We are addressing a need,” Dyl said. “To the members of the Kearny Fire Department, all life is precious.”

Photos by Karen Zautyk The three masks acquired by the KFD.
Photos by Karen Zautyk
The three masks acquired by the KFD.
Photos by Karen Zautyk The three masks acquired by the KFD.
Photos by Karen Zautyk
The three
masks acquired by the KFD.

Now, about that raccoon in the photo. When we knew we’d be doing a story on the masks, we realized we’d need some sort of animal — preferably stuffed, since they are easier to control — to act as our model. We called several friends to see if anyone had a fairly large toy cat or dog, and zilch. Then Goldberg told us she had a stuffed raccoon, which we borrowed. It would have to do.

Where does the serendipity mentioned in the caption come in?

While we were at KFD headquarters, Deputy Chief John Harris told us about a rescue call the department received last July. There was a report of a dog trapped in the Passaic River mud near the Belleville Pike. “Trapped” turned out to be an understatement. The riverbank mud apparently was like quicksand, and the poor thing was almost completely submerged.

Harris showed us some photos of the incident, with firefighters employing their swift-water rescue gear, and a snare borrowed from the KPD, to reach the helpless creature and carry it to safety.

It was unrecognizable, coated in mud and with mud clogging its mouth and snout. The KFD did what it could to help, and the survivor was then turned over to the Humane Society.

Those who reported the mud-covered animal thought it was a dog. When it was pulled out, Harris said, “it still looked like a dog.”

But a dog it was not.

It was a raccoon.

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