MCKEESPORT - Not long ago, Barbara Procup of McKeesport was watching a cable news channel when she saw a segment on surgical oxygen masks for pets that some EMS teams are using to save dogs and cats that have suffered smoke inhalation during fires.
"It really interested me and I thought it would be a good project for our McKeesport Joint Task Force," Ms. Procup said. She is treasurer of the group.
Her husband, Thomas, did some research on the Internet and located the organization promoting the masks, The Chico Project of Greater Washington based in Hyattsville, Md. Ms. Procup took information about the resuscitation devices to her task force and to the McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service and found both groups were interested.
The pet masks, which resemble Tupperware bowl containers and fit the protruding snout and mouths of animals better than human masks, come in three sizes. The masks connect to external oxygen tanks by tubing and function virtually the same way as oxygen masks worn by humans.
Though the ambulance service does not plan to make emergency veterinary calls as a result of acquiring the masks, the devices could help save the lives of animals who have inhaled dangerous amounts of smoke or chemicals during emergencies.
"In the past we've had to use the regular masks on the pets we've brought out of fires," said ambulance service director Bill Miller. He noted that a handful of paramedics on the squad have received special animal rescue training.
"Any extra tools we have to help us do our jobs are greatly appreciated,'' he said.
Rescue service crew chief Lynn Bellonotti, who once used a regular surgical mask to save a kitten that had suffered smoke inhalation during a fire in Versailles, said she and other paramedics appreciate the new masks.
"We're all suckers for pets so it works for us," she said.
The masks came in three sizes to fit small, medium and large pets. The kit cost the task force $75 and will be kept on one of the rescue service's' four ambulances. Mr. Miller said he hopes the other ambulances can eventually be outfitted with the devices.
The McKeesport Joint Task Force is a volunteer organization concerned with local civic, health and education issues. Other task force projects include planting flowers in city parks, working with the city to address absentee landlord issues and sponsoring community activities for youth.
The Chico Project is a volunteer animal safety organization dedicated to equipping first responder teams with oxygen masks for animals.
For more information on the Chico Project visit: http://www.pet-projects.org/index.html