MURRIETA, Calif. -- A local veterinary hospital has donated 33 oxygen masks designed for use on pets to the Murrieta Fire Department.
"The equipment has the potential to save the life of a four-legged family member in the event of a fire," Chief Matt Shobert said.
The masks, which come in three sizes, are suitable for dogs, cats, birds and more. They were donated by California Veterinary Specialists, a 24-hour emergency care and specialty clinic in Murrieta.
Murrieta is now one of several Inland fire departments equipped with pet oxygen masks. Other cities where firefighters use them include Riverside, San Bernardino, Corona and Redlands.
On Monday, Sept. 17, Firefighter Engineer Matt Corelli and Firefighter Paramedic Ryan Roufs tried out the new masks on a Dalmatian mannequin used for veterinary training.
Murrieta fire officials said it's not uncommon for them to encounter animals in distress at house fires - as well as owners putting themselves in danger to rescue their pets.
"People go in after their animals all the time," Corelli said.
In the past, firefighters might have tried to help a pet suffering from smoke inhalation by using a mask designed for a human, Corelli said. But those don't fit an animal snout snugly enough to be effective, he said.
Dr. Amy Carr, of California Veterinary Specialists, said pets are particularly susceptible to smoke inhalation because they tend to take cover under a bed or in a closet in the event of a fire.
"They're going to hide, because they're afraid," she said.
Making oxygen available at the scene of a fire can make the difference between life and death for a pet, she said.
The masks, which cost about $85 for a three-piece set, were purchased from Pets America, a nonprofit organization that works to provide fire departments and other agencies with animal rescue equipment and to ensure pets are included in community disaster plans. They also offer disaster preparedness workshops for pet owners.