When a house fire breaks out, saving human lives is always the firefighters’ priority. But, with 46 per cent of households England housing a pet, humans are not the only one to need saving. In 2014, Brian Lockyer and his wife found themselves talking about what they’d do in case of a house fire. As dog owners, one of their immediate worries was what would happen to their Labrador, Deefer.
“We both love her to death, and we can’t even imagine what we’d do if something happened to her,” Brian said.
Pets are especially at risk in the event of a house fire: they cannot open doors or windows and, while humans run outside the moment they realise there is a fire, dogs and cats have tendency to hide in the house. That puts them in grave danger: smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death in house fires.
“It happens often that, while people make it outside, fire-fighters have to look for pets inside the building,” Brian said. “Pets are even more vulnerable than we are to the damage dealt by smoke inhalation. When they’re taken out of a place burning house, it’s vital that they receive oxygen right away: those first minutes are crucial.”
At some point during the conversation Brian’s wife, who is American, mentioned that fire stations in the States are equipped with special oxygen masks for pets.
“We did some research, and as it turned out there is no such thing in the UK,” Brian said. “Whenever a pet needs oxygen, fire-fighters have to use masks meant for humans. But they don’t work nearly as well: it doesn’t fit a dog or a cat’s muzzle, it lets oxygen escape and makes it impossible to control the flow.”
This lack gave them the idea of buying a set of oxygen masks for pets – £90 for a set of three sizes fitting all kinds of pets, making it £30 for each one – and give them to their local fire station. Still, they were left with the feeling there was more they could do to help, and Smokey Paws was created in April 2014.
“We are a very small non-profit – and by that I mean, really small. Just me and my wife, while working full time,” Brian said. “But we decided that the more fire stations we provided with pet oxygen masks, the more pets could potentially be saved. A proper oxygen mask is their best chance at survival after smoke inhalation.”
On the Smokey Paws website, Brian both takes donations and allows people to nominate a fire station they wish would receive the equipment. All money raised goes towards buying and importing the oxygen masks for those fire stations.
“There is an interactive map on the website, for people to nominate their local fire station. The response was incredible. Some people who did also messaged us with heart-wrenching stories of losing their pet to a fire. It made us all the more eager to help,” he said.
Smokey Paws relies mostly on donations from the general public through its website and from its sponsors.
“We want all fire engines to have a set with them when they set off,” Brian said. “Firefighters will rescue us and get back inside burning houses to save our pets as well – we may as well do all we can to help make it worth it.”
Images by Smokey Paws.