In the past, local firefighters have worked to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation by using a "makeshift" system with regular breathing masks, said Dave Swan, ambulance chief for Independent Fire Co. in Ranson.
The new masks, which are made by a company known as SurgiVet, are custom-built for animals and give a tighter fit around a pet's snout, said Michael Mahrer, director of development and marketing for The National Humane Education Society, a parent organization of Briggs Animal Adoption Center.
The masks were donated to the county's fire departments during a ceremony Wednesday morning at Independent Fire Co. During the ceremony, animal welfare officials demonstrated the use of the breathing masks on Star, a black and tan coonhound.
The gentle-natured female hunting dog barely moved as the clear breathing mask was slid over her nose.
Briggs Animal Adoption Center donated 36 breaking "kits," which should be enough to equip every piece of firefighting equipment in the county, said Ed Smith, chief of Independent.
Each kit contains a breathing mask for a cat, a large dog and a small dog, Mahrer said.
The kits will be distributed to the county's fire departments during a Jefferson County Fire and Rescue Association meeting next Tuesday, Smith said. Donald Longerbeam, Independent's assistant fire chief who also works as an animal control officer in Loudoun County, Va., will train local firefighters on how to use the masks, Smith said.
Seeing an animal suffer in a fire can be a traumatic experience for pet owners, Smith said. Smith said two dogs died in a house fire recently in Patrick Henry Estates east of Charles Town and the owner repeatedly said how upset she was.
"Most of the animals are considered family members. If we can help them in any way, we will do that," Swan said.