FARMERS BRANCH — Chad Brown arrived at his first fire about 14 years ago at a meth house.

FARMERS BRANCH — Chad Brown arrived at his first fire about 14 years ago at a meth house.

One of the victims rescued by the Farmers Branch firefighter was a black dog, but Brown only had a human oxygen mask to revive it, which leaked oxygen because it didn’t fit properly.

He managed to save the dog. But the next time he has to treat an animal, it should be easier.

On Friday, Brown and more than 40 other firefighters underwent "pet paramedicine" training at the Farmers Branch Fire Department to learn how to handle the dogs and cats they find in emergencies and how to use oxygen masks fitted specifically for animals.

"These will work a lot better," Brown said.

Many fire departments are not required to treat pets they find at a fire. And when animal rescues occur, firefighters often lack knowledge about pet CPR and the equipment to treat animals for things like smoke inhalation.

Dixen Bray, a junior at Denton’s Guyer High School, wanted to change that.

She organized Friday’s two training sessions for firefighters from Farmers Branch, Coppell, Addison and Carrollton as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project with the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine.

"For some people that might have just lost their house and all of their belongings, you don’t want to also give them news that they lost their pet," Bray said.

Bray also helped arrange for the pet product company Invisible Fence to donate 14 animal oxygen masks to the fire departments that attended the training. The company’s Project Breathe has donated more than 10,000 masks to fire stations in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website.

All Dallas fire stations were equipped with pet oxygen masks last year. But firefighters more often than not just call animal services if they bring a pet out of a burning building, said Jason Evans, public information officer for Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Bray and her sister, who helped bring pet training and masks to Denton firefighters last year, got the idea for the pet paramedicine training after seeing firefighters trying to revive animals on the news.

Human oxygen masks don’t work effectively on dogs and cats, but animal oxygen masks are shaped like a muzzle. Firefighters also have to keep in mind when using animal masks that dogs and cats have different oxygen flow rates than humans, Bray said.

Gabriel Vargas, deputy of chief of operations for the Farmers Branch Fire Department, said he can remember only two times in his 15 years as a firefighter when his colleagues could have done something to help a pet recover from a fire.

But he and other firefighters who attended said they appreciated the training and the masks, which will make pet rescues easier in the future.

Caleb Coursey, a technician at Texas A&M’s Veterinary Emergency Team who taught Friday’s training course, said pets have gradually gained more priority in fire and disaster rescues.

"A lot of people could care less that their house has been burned down, washed away by a flood or blown away by a tornado," Coursey said. "They care more about their pet."

And those pets can in turn help disaster victims.

"A lot of people say it’s just a dog, it’s just a cat," Coursey said. "The studies show that recovering from a disaster is actually so much better if they continue going with their pet."


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