Update: Authorities confirmed late Tuesday evening that two of the 22 dogs that were rescued had to later be euthanized by a veterinarian.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking with some of the puppies when they came out. Knowing that they’re puppies, they’re supposed to be running around, jumping on stuff. But these guys were barely moving,” Chris Laird told reporters today as he and some of the other volunteer firefighters at Lawrence Township’s Lawrence Road Fire Co. recounted the efforts that went into saving nearly two dozen dogs from a house fire in Hopewell Township Monday night (April 2).
“It was a good feeling as soon as you got oxygen into them, knowing now they’re starting to bark, now they’re yelping, now they’re pushing the mask away,” Laird said.
Hopewell Township Police Lt. Thomas Puskas said today that a total of 23 dogs – some tiny puppies just days old – were in the two-story house in the 2300 block of Pennington Road (Route 31) when the blaze broke out shortly before 8 p.m. Monday. One dog died in the house from smoke inhalation, but the other 22 were rescued. Many were revived with oxygen.
A handful of the dogs were treated at a veterinary hospital in Langhorne, Pa., Puskas said, noting that a neighbor agreed to provide temporary shelter for the displaced pets.
Puskas said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. “Preliminarily, it is not suspicious and there is some indication at least one scented candle was in use at the time of the fire,” he said.
Hopewell Township Police Chief George Meyer has said the blaze was reported by Ramona Burnett, who rents one of two apartments in the two-story house. Burnett, 49, smelled smoke upon entering the apartment and found her son’s first-floor bedroom ablaze. Her son, who is 13, had already fled the house, while the resident of the other apartment located in the house was not home at the time.
Responding to battle the blaze were all three Hopewell Valley volunteer fire companies – Pennington Borough, Hopewell Borough, and Union Fire Co. of Titusville – along with the West Trenton Volunteer Fire Co. from Ewing Township and the Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville volunteer fire companies from Lawrence Township.
As other firefighters battled the blaze, Lawrence Road volunteers stood by outside as the “rapid intervention team,” a group whose specific responsibility at a fire scene it is be to ready to act at a moment’s notice in the event that another firefighter becomes trapped in the burning building or otherwise needs rescuing.
“We began to hear yelps from the interior. Our instant reaction was to grab our canine oxygen kit,” Laird related. “We told the [other firefighters] as soon as they bring the dogs out, bring them right over to us and we’ll give them oxygen. They brought out one…two…15…20 dogs. We just kept pumping oxygen into them.”
The pet oxygen masks carried on Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 fire engine were donated to the fire company in January by the Humane Society, which also donated masks to Ewing Township’s three volunteer fire companies. The donations were in recognition of the four fire companies’ roles in saving a dog from a house fire in Ewing on Sept. 4, 2011.
The “O2 Fur Life” masks, manufactured by Wag’N Pet Safety, come in three sizes and are specially-designed to provide life-saving oxygen to a variety of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds.
Lawrence Road firefighters recently conducted training to familiarize themselves with the new masks, but the fire Monday night was the first time they used the masks for real.
“One dog can be a given at a fire. You sort of expect that. Twenty dogs? That’s different. [But] you never know what you’re going to come across, which is why these [masks] were given to us. They worked fantastic. I definitely love these things,” Laird said as he and fellow volunteer firefighter James Brundage demonstrated the masks for reporters.
Some of the puppies were so tiny that one firefighter carried several of them out of the burning house all at once cradled inside his helmet. “We were picking them out like Easter eggs to give them oxygen,” Laird said.
When asked if CPR was performed on the dogs, Laird chuckled and said firefighters and Pennington Borough First Aid Squad personnel provided “minor CPR” but “it wasn’t mouth-to-mouth.” Turning serious again, he noted that some of the puppies “came out pretty much lifeless and barely clinging to life.”
Eventually, as the oxygen began to take effect and revive them, the dogs started to push away from the masks. “They fact they’re squirming is a good thing – it means they’re alive,” Laird said.
“It’s great knowing we helped save that many dogs,” Laird said, describing himself as an animal lover. “The situation obviously could have been a lot worse than it was. With the group effort of the guys pulling the dogs out and extinguishing the fire at the same time and us providing the oxygen for the dogs, it just worked out perfect.”
Brundage agreed, saying “It’s a great feeling to know that we helped.”
“I think it’s a great thing we saved a bunch of dogs,” said Keith Kent, another Lawrence Road volunteer firefighter who helped out Monday night. “I’ve got two dogs of my own and I love them. It touched my heart that we could save all those dogs.”
“As chief I am very proud of my men and of the other companies that worked this fire,” Lawrence Road Fire Chief Shaun Dlabik said. “A fire is such a sad event, but this was a truly heart-warming outcome. We trained [on the pet oxygen masks] just a few weeks ago. My firefighters did what they trained to do. But this would not have been the great outcome that it was without the exceptional teamwork displayed by the Pennington, Hopewell, Union, West Trenton and Lawrenceville fire companies. They put a great stop on the fire, and they located and removed the dogs. It was a great job all around.”
Puskas said today that Hopewell Township Health Department and animal control officials are continuing to investigate why Burnett had so many dogs in the house.