KESLING MILL — Upshur County pet owners can now breathe easier knowing that two more county fire departments are now equipped with life-saving pet oxygen masks.
During a special presentation at the Kesling Mill Lions Club Monday night, the Washington District Vol. Fire Company and the Ellamore Fire Department received their first WAG’N 02 Fur Life Program pet oxygen masks. Banks District Vol. Fire Department and Buckhannon Fire Department — both of which were already armed with the special masks — also received additional kits, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Kesling Mill Lions Club, Wright Construction and local clowns “Fuzzy” and “Stubbles” (Bill Skinner and Jim Lockhart, respectively).
Each kit contains three masks, ranging from small to large to fit all types of pets, including dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs and more, according to the program’s website, www.petoxygenmasks.org. The masks save the lives of pets that typically hide in the instance of a house fire and die of smoke asphyxiation before firefighters can remove or revive them.
The donations made Monday night were a continuation of an initiative started by Lockhart and Skinner, each of whom are animal lovers. Lockhart and his wife have four cats, and Skinner and his wife had a dog that recently passed away, who was, according to Lockhart, “just like Skinner’s child.”
The idea of purchasing the pet oxygen masks for Upshur County fire departments came to Lockhart one day when he was watching the HLN network and learned about the story of a pet that was saved by a mask during a house fire that broke out in California.
“I went to the Buckhannon Fire Department, and I found out that state law prevented them (the fire department) from using their departmental funding for anything but equipment that can be used to save humans,” Lockhart said, “so Stubbles (Skinner) and I decided that’s what we would collect money for, and we ordered a kit to give to them.”
The kits cost approximately $90 and include three different-sized masks as well as a special paper firefighters can leave behind in homes to inform the homeowner that his or her pet has been taken to the vet for a follow-up examination.
Lockhart said he’s happy the effort to purchase pet oxygen masks is catching on across Upshur County.
“Most people would be more devastated by the loss of a dog or cat than they would be by the loss of a house,” Lockhart said. Although enough money has been raised to purchase a total of 10 pet oxygen masks throughout the county, the Selbyville Vol. Fire Department and the Warren District Vol. Fire Department still don’t have them, Lockhart said.
“Ninety dollars sounds like a lot, but if you give me quarters, I’ll save enough to come up with $90,” Lockhart said. “Our goal is to try to get them in every fire truck in the county.”
On Monday night, Lockhart and Skinner raised another $100 to purchase an 11th mask.
“Stubbles said we ought to take up a collection, and soon enough, every fire department that was there contributed until we had enough money to buy another one,” Lockhart said. “People need to know too that the firemen really, really appreciate them. We told them we hope they always stay in their trucks and they’re never used, but we want to make sure they’re there just in case any animals need them.”
Capt. J.B. Kimble with the Buckhannon Fire Department said he’s very grateful to have the pet oxygen masks because many people’s pets are like their children.
“In my 26-year career as a firefighter, I can remember many times pulling pets out of fires and not having the equipment to help them,” Kimble said. “Some people’s pets are like their children, and it’s hard when you’re not able to provide adequate service to pets. This helps us to do that.”
Lockhart and Skinner welcome any donations community members would like to make toward purchasing additional pet oxygen masks. Simply call Lockhart at 304-472-7793 or drop money off at a local fire department in an envelope with his name on it.