The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District says it has recently received dozens of specially designed oxygen masks to save the lives of pets, including snakes and gerbils.
The new masks, which primarily will protect cats and dogs, were donated by a national distributor, Invisible Fence Brand, under its Project Breathe program.
Fire Capt. Christopher Quinn said the agency received 78 kits that it is distributing this week. He said more than 40,000 pets die in U.S. house fires each year.
In Rancho Cordova last month, an elderly couple perished in a house fire, as did many of their pets, including four dogs, three cats and a number of birds.
But now, first responders from Metro Fire will be equipped to save animal as well as human lives.
"These are the same masks that vets and vet technicians would use in animal hospitals," Quinn said.
Each kit includes oxygen masks, which come in three sizes; tubing to hook them up to oxygen tanks, and a leash.
Previously, rescuers tried unsuccessfully to use human oxygen masks to help animals caught in fires, Quinn said.
Quinn said witnessing these incidents and recognizing that Sac Metro firefighters have a passion for saving lives prompted him to pursue Invisible Fence Brand's Project Breathe pet mask program.
"To save a life - that's the most important thing we do every day," Quinn said. "The fact is, when you show up at a house fire and everybody's out but yet a pet perishes, we still feel that we want to do more."
Christina Szmurlo, community outreach manager for Invisible Fence Brand, said the masks are "one of those things we provide to the fire department with the hope that they won't have to use them."
The pet oxygen masks are credited with saving 90 pets' lives in the last three years, she said.
Project Breathe has donated 10,000 masks in the United States and Canada.
"Our biggest goal with this project is just to provide community comfort so they know their local fire department is able to protect and save their pets," Szmurlo said.
More information about Project Breathe and donation requests can be found at www.invisiblefence.com/02.
Call The Bee's Brittany Torrez, (916) 321-1103.