Losing a beloved family pet in a house fire often adds insult to victims' emotional injuries, even when every human life has been spared.
About a dozen fire departments serving the Town of Cheektowaga and villages of Depew and Sloan are hoping to not only save victims from that added distress, but also to save the lives of their pets.
Fire chiefs from across Cheektowaga received a detailed half-hour presentation Tuesday from representatives at Project Breathe, a nationwide initiative that provides pet oxygen mask kits to emergency responders.
It's something that Forks Fire District No. 3 Chief Kurt Spieler knew was a novel idea when his wife brought some information about the program home from a recent pet expo.
"We feel if we can save someone's pet even though their home is destroyed, it helps in the rebuilding process," Spieler said.
"Our main focus is human life," he said. "But a lot of times in our rescue operations we encounter pets during search-and-rescue. Often times, we just don't have the equipment to do the rescue."
That changed Tuesday.
Project Breathe provided 20 kits to the town's departments. Each kit, donated by Invisible Fence Co., includes three masks -- one each of the small, medium and large sizes -- along with oxygen supply lines, a rescue leash and Pet Alert decals that can be applied to fire apparatus.
"The big thing is just getting the word out there," said Casey Wiederhold, event director for Project Breathe, which is based in Rochester. "We've really picked up steam in the Buffalo and Rochester areas."
Wiederhold said there are three fire departments in the Buffalo area with the kits. Adding Cheektowaga, its surrounding villages and some Rural/Metro Medical Services rigs more than quadruples that number.
Wiederhold said Wilson Volunteer Fire Company in Niagara County is expected to be added to that list in early March.
Tuesday's demonstration was led by Project Breathe's marketing representative, Chris Shand, who -- with Cheektowaga Police K-9 Wazi and his handler, Officer John Doskocz -- showed the nearly 40 chiefs and their assistants at the South Line Fire Company hall on French Road in South Cheektowaga how the device works.
The mask is placed over the pet's muzzle. Then, calibrated amounts of oxygen are delivered to the animal.
"Any animal that is rescued from a house fire, it is imperative they receive attention immediately," said Shand, explaining that smoke inhalation can prove fatal to pets up to 48 hours after a fire.
Most animals die from smoke inhalation-related complications, fire officials say.
After some firefighter training next month, all of the departments in Cheektowaga will have the ability to resuscitate dogs and cats at fire scenes by using the masks and oxygen supplies to treat pets suffering from smoke inhalation.
For complete coverage, go to buffalonews.com/cheektowaga.