If a fire starts in your home, you only have as little as two minutes to escape, according to the American Red Cross. That's why fire safety plans are so important and why it's crucial to have these conversations with any friends or family members who might live with you. But things get a bit more complicated when you have pets in the mix. How do you handle them and how do you ensure they're also able to leave the home safely?
After Redditor thiskatrinaknits asked the online community, "Firefighters of Reddit, what are some ways to help keep pets safe if there's a fire, especially if the owners aren't home?" people weighed in with their advice.
"If you do the test sound once a month..."
Train your pets to come to a specific location in your house/to you when the alarm goes off. If you do the test sound once a month and get them used to going to an exit point when they hear it, they can get out of the house faster when help arrives. If you are home when this happens, you also know where to find them and they will be less likely to be scared and want to hide.
"In my experience..."
Firefighter here: it's truly one of the most pleasing parts of an otherwise terrible day for me to bring someone their pet on the worst day of their life. I absolutely love animals so I will make a sizable personal risk to bring them out safely wether it's a lizard, a fish, a dog, a cat... doesn't matter to me.
The MOST important thing you can do, in my opinion, is make it crystal clear WHO (species) and HOW MANY we're supposed to look for.
In my experience, cats will almost always get out by themselves as soon as we or something opens/breaks a door or window. Dogs will almost always wait by the door they go out to poop from.
"Don't expect your pet..."
Have a sticker on your door about what pets you have. Lets us know what to look for. Close the door to the room they are in. That goes for everyone when they are sleeping. Get working smoke alarms, hopefully someone will hear them before the fire is too far involved. Better yet, get a system that automatically contacts emergency services. Don't expect your pet to get out if you leave an exterior door open. Their instincts are to usually hide rather than escape.
"The best chance of survival..."
I'm a firefighter and I can give some tips and information. I can also give my opinions, but they are mine and not every firefighter's.
First, we put more emphasis on saving people than pets. I know that probably isn't the most popular assertion on Reddit, but it's true. In addition, we will risk less to save a pet. I don't want to inform a spouse that their spouse died saving a cat. Again, not popular but this is reality. We do primary and secondary searches in every structure fire and if we find a pet, we will definitely pull them out. The big issue is that pets run and hide when frightened. Most pets I've found were in a closet or under a bed. Having said all that, here are my ideas:
Fire prevention - if you don't have a fire, your pet will not be in jeopardy. Working smoke alarms (with working batteries and tested once a month) combustibles away from open flame, extension cords used temporarily and not permanently, flammable liquids stored safely, electrical system up to code, etc. Research fire safety and put into practice.
Fire escape plan - create one and practice it with you family, and include pets in it. Assembling everyone in a meeting place, including pets, will ensure everyone is out. While we're at it, include house guests too. Many people forget this.
Tell the responding fire department there is a pet in the house. They will be on the lookout, with the caveats mentioned above.
See if your local FD has pet masks on their trucks. My department does. We just had another successful pet save a few days ago, and the cat is doing fine. It's also great media for the department, so it may be an easy sell, if you wish to encourage them. Some of our pet masks were donated by citizens.
I hope this helps. The best chance of survival is not to have a fire in the first place. Make your homes fire safe!
"You can buy a sticker..."
You can buy a sticker from a pet store that alerts fire fighters to any pets in your home. We put one in the window by our front door.
Others have commented good information, so I thought I'd share a photo of me saving a cat from a fire. Mother's Day house fire, upper floor 2 bedrooms involved. We found the cat in the bedroom unconscious from smoke and were able to resuscitate it. Even though the bottom floor of the house was perfectly fine, the cat was hiding upstairs and suffered from smoke inhalation. Just remember, they won't always know to flee the fire, or be able to.
"As far as tips or tricks..."
IAMA FF, and we (my agency and myself) have saved many pets from dogs and cats, to parrots, fish, snakes, and even a tarantula one time. We will always do our best to save any living thing in a fire, but your pet sadly will never be a priority to save in an active firefight. We are looking for humans, if we find a pet, we will 100% grab them and bring them out. All of our apparatus with my agency have pet masks that I've used a few times.
As far as tips or tricks, maybe train your pet to run to the front door when the smoke alarm goes off. I imagine this would be easiest with large mammals like cats and dogs. Those window stickers are a fine idea, but not ever in the forefront of our minds as we approach a working fire.
Letting us know where your pet likely is. What your pet is. And please, for the sake of OUR families, don't send me into your fully engulfed house to find your "baby" that is actually a cat or a dog. One of the scariest close calls I've ever had was going back into a fully engulfed single wide mobile home that my partner and I ended up falling through the floor of while searching for the homeowners "baby".
When we finally got out we were heartbroken and devastated we couldn't find the baby only to see the homeowner holding a small dog saying her baby had made it out. She was willing to sacrifice our lives for her dog, and that's just not okay. As a rule now I make sure to find out if the baby is a human or not before I go inside or send my guys inside.
"While others are giving great advice..."
Professional Career Firefighter/Paramedic here.
While others are giving great advice, realistically it is incredibly difficult to establish a "plan" with your animal. More often than not, they are incredibly aware of the house layout, but can easily become disoriented or panicked in a fire.
The best "tips" are sometimes the exact things we stress to other humans:
- Keep doors closed and rooms isolated, this can keep heat, smoke and fire from other rooms.
- Keep your house less cluttered and never block potential entries or exits.
- Lastly (and I cannot stress this enough), never enter the home again or attempt to find your animal. Let us go inside and get them for you. Many people believe they can save their animal, and don't come back out. We can get in, knock the fire down, and potentially save your animal without the risk of you dying.
And keep in mind..."
Make sure that your pets know where the exits of your home are, and make sure that they would be able to leave through them if there ever was a fire, things such as pet doors are great for this. If you can't do that, make it so that any firefighters who enter (And keep in mind, if it is a volunteer FD like the one I am a part of, that it may take upwards of twenty minutes for everyone to arrive) are able to see any pets that you may have, wether that be directly, or by a sign, marking, etc. If you know that your pet is inside the home when there is a fire, be sure so let someone there know. I'm sorry if this doesn't help a lot, but I am not an interior firefighter currently, though I will be in a few years.
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