The picture of a dog licking the face of a firefighter who had rescued her and her unborn puppies from a fire reminded me of an experience that happened earlier in my firefighting career.

On a hot July day in 1995 I was heading home with a carload of groceries when our mutual aid department was toned out for a house fire. “Great, we’ll be called in next; I hope it’s nothing because the ice cream’s going to melt in the car…” Sure enough, my department was toned out, so I changed direction and responded to the scene.

Because the fire was right on a district border, the neighboring city department had also been dispatched to the scene. The city pumper was the first to arrive and reported a working fire with flames from the front of the structure. Oh well, there goes the ice cream.

I arrived on scene, geared up and went to do what I could until my department apparatus arrived. I noticed that a city firefighter had entered the structure by himself with the hose line, so I decided to pack up and help him. There was no command structure in place at the time, nor any other apparatus, so I helped myself to an MSA pack from the city truck.

(First mistake: attempting to don SCBA that you haven’t practiced with. If you’re going to do it, at least make sure nobody is watching. Scott and MSA are like day and night.)

I finally got the mask working and followed the hose line into the house, although by this time the fire was knocked down. So I started a secondary search of the house and discovered a small white poodle on the floor of a bedroom. At first I thought it was a stuffed animal; it was soot-covered but otherwise unharmed, except that it wasn’t breathing.

I brought the animal out of the house and laid it in the grass, kneeling beside it to check for signs of life. The homeowner ran up and began crying when she saw me tending to her dog. I thought “hey, might as well make it look good,” so I began chest compressions on the spot I judged the dog’s heart ought to be.

(Second mistake: If you’re going to perform canine CPR, wouldn’t it be good to practice it or at least be somewhat instructed?)

I may have started with compressions as a stall tactic to consider the problem of rescue breathing, since mouth to mouth isn’t physically possible on a dog. This was a small dog, and it was either mouth-to-nose resuscitation with no barrier device, or nothing. By now the realization that this poor little fellow had been living and breathing a few short minutes before had set in, and I was determined more than ever to save its life. So it was mouth-to-nose, holding the mouth shut and lips sealed as best I could.

By this time an ambulance crew had come over and they were setting up oxygen and a BVM to assist with ventilations. I continued with compressions while an EMT made a seal with his hand to bag pure oxygen into the little guy. Unfortunately, after a while we realized that our efforts were futile. Fire had claimed another victim.

I carried the dog out into the back yard at the request of the owner, laying it to rest in the spot which would shortly become its grave. I didn’t linger to be part of the burial detail.

At this time the fire was out; overhauling well under way and people and equipment were being dismissed from the scene. My department had made it to the fire just in time to be sent back home since everything was under control. I got back into my car and continued on my way home, stopping at our fire station to check in.

(Third mistake: In the fire service news travels fast, with the age-old mode of communication, “tell-a-firefighter.” I should have waited a few days, weeks, months, years…)

It seemed as if everyone had turned out at the station just to hear how Joe had tried to revive a dog at the fire. There was a good deal of banter in the form of mostly one-way humorous, if not snide comments about the situation. I suspected that behind the laughter and good-natured ribbing there were traces of admiration and respect.

For a long time afterward, and because of the high efficiency of the tell-a-firefighter system, whenever I responded to fires with other departments I’d be asked – jokingly - to perform resuscitative efforts on snakes, rabbits, cats, ferrets and other unfortunate creatures caught in fire situations. My reply was universal: “Sorry boys, my record is oh-for-one, it wouldn’t do any good”. But secretly I know I would do it again if the situation came up. (Certainly for dogs, cats, and perhaps flying squirrels; but snakes or hermit crabs, they’ll be simply out of luck.)

At the time of the fire my daughter and her mother were out of town on vacation. They returned about a week after the fire, and a couple of days after that my daughter left one of her stuffed animals on the couch. I took one look and froze. There it was! The SAME DOG I tried to revive – same size, same color (well, a little cleaner), eyes and mouth open, tongue hanging out, identical. It could have been modeled after my late, unfortunate canine patient. I had to touch it to make sure that it was a toy. To say I was freaked out would have been an understatement.

Months later, at our next department banquet (by then I’d completely forgotten about the incident) I went up to the podium to present a couple of gag gifts (that’s another story) and had started my introductory speech. I was halted by the master of ceremonies, who said “Hold it a minute… first, here’s a gift for you!”

I was presented a plastic box labeled thus:


"fido, fido, are you okay?"

Inside was a stuffed “Pound Puppy” toy animal. The handwriting on the box looked familiar, and I later found out that my then-sweetheart had been the ringleader of the gag. She had heard the idea mentioned and it took her a long time - several seconds at least - to get in on the plan. Her son’s toy animal collection provided a suitable prop for the occasion, without his knowledge of course.

Twelve years later, I look back on what’s happened in my life since my first (and only, so far) experience with animal resuscitation. My then-sweetheart is now my wife, proving that I eventually forgave her for her part in the gag. Our son has left the nest and is now selling used cars; if he ever found out that his animal collection was one beast short he never let on. Our daughter, who will turn 18 next month still has “THE poodle” AND the Pound Puppy in her collection, although their exact whereabouts are unknown.

And I still have the box, which is still labeled as I received it. The box and its occupant are ready to go at a moment’s notice, in the event that any of my brethren decide to practice the complex and unforgiving art of canine CPR.

Views: 277

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of My Firefighter Nation to add comments!

Join My Firefighter Nation

Comment by Labadorer on July 10, 2008 at 10:42am
Hi all - I just wanted to report that here in DE our firefighters were able to revive a dog yesterday afternoon with the aid of one of the Animal Oxygen masks. Although two others perished at least the family has one of their dogs for comfort...... other pets were rescued but did not need assistance. To see photos go to
I know some laugh, there were nonbelievers here in the State but with stories like these most have come around.
The Animal O2 mask is the right tool - and who doesn't what the right tool for the task at hand!
Comment by Labadorer on April 8, 2008 at 5:15pm
In May 2007 Delaware became the FIRST STATE in the nation with a set of the Animal O2 Delivery Masks in EVERY fire station. The sets were donated by the Wilmington Kennel Club, The Cat Fanciers' Association and the Mispillion Kennel Club. The first donation came in April 2006 - less than 30 days later firefighters from the Minquadale Fire Company used them to revive 8 cats. Since then there have been other saves throughout the state.
Since May of 2007 the Ladies Auxiliaries of the Departments have been raising money and purchasing additional sets - the goal - to have a set on every first response vehicle. The Aux. has doubled the number of sets that were initially donated and a couple of stations have a set on every vehicle now.
Unlike human masks they are REUSABLE and clean up easily. They also adapt quickly to a breather bag to help push O2 into the animal that is unresponsive. There are side vents for the introduction of ambient air and they come in 3 sizes.
There is even a story of a firefighter out in IOWA using the smallest one to revive a pet white rat.
There are stories all over the web and there is a video on showing no less than 4 firefighters reviving a dog.
Mask sets are available to purchase from HELP Animals Inc in Florida - a non profit group, whose primary goal is simply to get this tool into the hands of first responders.
In 2007 they were the primary source Nationwide for the sets and have even distributed them in Canada and Scotland. (You cannot purchase them directly from the Manufacturer)
We understand that it is human safety first - but numbers don't lie.
There is a 50/50 chance that a first responder will find an animal in a home.
There is a 38% chance that there will be a child under the age of 18 in a home.
(Numbers from the US Census and Statistics Department)
Why not give our first responders the right tool to work with!
For more information and to see a video of a save visit
What's in your hometown?
Comment by Karen on March 30, 2008 at 7:59pm
Being a dog owner, who very much considers her "4 legged fur child" part of the family, I would be MORE then grateful if a firefighter made the attempt to try and save my pet if such an unfortunate incident occured.
I have read where many fire depts and EMS units now carry oxygen masks especially designed for use on pets. I'd like to think that, if the opportunity arose, most firefighters/paramedics/emts would at least make the effort to try and save a family pet.
Comment by Engineco913 on March 30, 2008 at 3:03pm
Hey Ted, the next Iguana I rescue you can do the mouth to mouth on. ( I am soooo wasting a good blog here lol) We got called to a possible structure fire with fire alarm activation (no crap dispatch lol) on one of the towns major roads. Upon pulling on scene we noted a light smoke condition on the second floor B side. My partner and I made entry with a dry line to run the stairs, and tried the door. (locked) One small whack with a TNT tool we have entry. The smoke condition was worse inside the apartment. We don't really have any heat from fire, so we start a basic search of the apartment to ensure the occupants are out and to locate the source of the fire.
We entered this "bedroom" and located a smoking cage of some sort. We put the fire out (smoking cedar chips from a droplight (warming) that came unclipped and landed in the bottom of the cage) Upon further inspection (aka removing the lid) I realized I was going to be playing with a iguana that was about 4 feet long. The iguana had some smoke inhilation issues. (it was a sickly yellowish color)
Being brave, I did a quick visual to ensure I was going to be protected if this thing flipped out, I grit my teeth and reached in. The iguana was a bit sluggish, but once I had him out of his cage, my newfound friend gave me a great thanks for taking him away from the hazard. I was promply whipped by it's tail to the point my partner got nervous I had broke something.
The homeowner came home in time to see me carrying her "precious baby" outside to fresh air. I made her day (and her kids day) by saving the life of her iguana.
Now the ferret story.... Nah nevermind lol
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on March 30, 2008 at 12:28pm
Good funny story...but I echo Mike's sentiments....I can't tell you how many friends I have who view their cats and dogs the same as human members of the family (I've been guilty of that myself)...and the loss of a pet, while not felt quite as keenly as the loss of a parent, sibling, still a loss, so any salvage efforts are worth a shot.
He's right on the money about the positive PR....why else does that pic of the dog licking the firefighter keep making the rounds? It has pathos, drama, warmth and heroism all tied neatly up into one digital image.
Comment by Engineco913 on March 30, 2008 at 10:28am
Hey Joe, I got your back bro. One of our firefighter back in the day made a rescue on a pup and brought it back. Since then we took a donation from a citizen of a (hold down the laughter here) animal O2 mask and CPR instructions....... They sit proudly on a shelf on our special hazards.
Hey a save is a save. If you save a pup from a fire and bring it back to life, you have forever cemented your efforts into a child or family's minds and come next budget meeting or membership drive, hopefully it will have paid for itself.

FireRescue Magazine

Find Members Fast

Or Name, Dept, Keyword
Invite Your Friends
Not a Member? Join Now

© 2019   Created by Firefighter Nation WebChief.   Powered by

Badges  |  Contact Firefighter Nation  |  Terms of Service