Donation helps local fire department save pets

July 23, 2014
Invisible Fence representative Becky Urbanic works with Fonzie, a demonstration dog, and Jon Bittner, safety officer for California Volunteer Fire Department.

California Volunteer Fire Department is now equipped to save even the furriest members of your family.

On Monday, the fire department received three pet oxygen mask kits from Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania. The donation was part of the company’s Project Breathe program, which works to provide free pet oxygen masks to first responders across the United States and Canada. The department also was provided with a free demonstration on how to properly use the masks.

The masks, which are cone shaped to better fit over an animal’s snout, allows first responders to give pets suffering from smoke inhalation oxygen after they have been rescued from a house fire. Each kit contains three masks: large, medium and small. First responders also are provided with a leash and tubing to connect the masks to oxygen tanks.

Jon Bittner, the safety officer for California VFD, said the department has seen an upswing in pets in the area. After learning of Project Breathe, Bittner said he knew he had to get his hands on at least one kit.

“To most people, pets are a member of their families,” Bittner said. “When everyone is out safely, the attention then turns to the pet. There is always a wave of relief when their animals are brought out safely.”

Bittner said California first responders have had to resuscitate pets in the past. But without the proper tools, Bittner said they had to improvise.

“I’ve heard of departments using pop bottles (for masks),” he said.

Christina Landwehr, the community outreach manager for Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania, said a human oxygen mask is ineffective because its shape allows oxygen to escape.

“There is greater success with (the pet) mask,” she said. “It increases the odds of bringing a pet back to life.”

Landwehr said each kit costs $80, a cost the Knoxville, Tenn., company is more than happy to cover.

“Our job is to keep pets alive,” she said.

Invisible Fence Brand is an electronic pet-containment system. So far, the company has donated more than 10,000 oxygen kits, with a large concentration of donations here in Pennsylvania. Landwehr said at least 120 pets have been saved because of the masks, but the number could be higher.

“No one keeps track of the number of animals lost in fires,” she said.

Bittner said the kits will be kept on the two vehicles that respond to the most calls: their main fire engine and their ladder truck. He hopes neighboring departments will follow their example.

“We are going to try to spread the word about these,” he said. “Hopefully, everyone will take advantage of them.”

To learn more or to request a kit, visit

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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