Firefighters do what they can to rescue pets

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Shelly Birkelo
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

JANESVILLE—Janesville firefighter/paramedic Rob Calhoon was using a thermal-imaging camera to search for people in a second-floor apartment fire Oct. 1 when he came across a dog.

When he crouched down close in the smoke-filled room, he could see that the animal was breathing.

Confident that everyone else was safe, Calhoon knew he had to act quickly to get the dog out of the smoke and into fresh air. But he needed help with the purebred Rottweiler, which weighed nearly 100 pounds.

That's when firefighter/paramedic Nick Nolte, who had been pushing a fire hose up the stairs, came to Calhoon's aid and helped carry the dog downstairs and outside.

"The dog was suffering from heat and smoke inhalation. It was panting pretty heavily and unresponsive," Calhoon said.

He told Nolte to grab a pet rescue mask from the ambulance so they could give oxygen to the dog.

"In about 4 to 5 minutes, the dog came around," Nolte said.

The co-workers took turns holding the oxygen mask on the dog until he could be reunited with his owners.

The reunion between the dog, named Mauser, and his owners was emotional. Both firefighters received hugs and words of thanks.

"It was pretty cool," Calhoon said.

Although the Janesville Fire Department doesn't keep statistics on pet rescues, Shift Commander Bill Ruchti said it's common for firefighters to deal with pets in fires.

Even the U.S. Fire Administration doesn't keep statistics about the number of pets lost to fires, but it estimates that at least 40,000 pets die each year, mostly from smoke inhalation.

So how much risk are Janesville firefighters willing to take to rescue pets?

"Getting human lives out of the way of harm is first. Animals will be secondary in fire safety," Ruchti said.

"We are not going to risk our life for an animal if we're concerned there's a high risk of a building collapse. We take a much higher risk for human life and a much lesser risk for animals, and not because it's not important to rescue animals, but you have to put it into perspective," he said.

The fire department received donations of oxygen masks of varying sizes for animals several years ago.

The department does no formal training for animal rescues.

"It basically tends to be common sense," Ruchti said.

Basic medical training is generally what is needed to help an animal such as Mauser, Calhoon said.

Animals typically get out of a fire on their own and leave willingly when a door is opened to provide a way out, Ruchti said.

"The ones that truly need to be rescued are those not moving (such as Mauser), and we're more than happy to bring them out," he said.

Ruchti said firefighters will rescue and resuscitate animals if the fire is under control and they aren't worried about it spreading and endangering other things.

“If personnel is available, we will do everything we can to help an animal recover," he said.

For that, Mauser's owners, John Hamm and Jenni Sotos, are grateful.

"We were hoping he'd be OK and that the firefighters were doing everything to aid in his rescue. They did a phenomenal job," Hamm said.

"I was in shock" when we came home from running errands to find the apartment on fire, Hamm said.

"It was intense. But we were happy and relieved" that Mauser was safe, Hamm said.

After being rescued, Mauser was taken to the emergency veterinarian clinic in Madison, where he received oxygen for two nights and three days. He is back to normal health.

Last updated: 3:04 pm Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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