FAIRBANKS - Alaska Interior firefighters have a new piece of rescue equipment to work with - doggie-sized oxygen masks.
The Fairbanks Animal Shelter Fund has donated the animal oxygen masks to nine Fairbanks area fire departments.
The plastic masks come in kits of four sizes fitting animals from flat-faced cats to long-snouted dogs.
Departments across the Fairbanks North Star Borough - from Salcha Rescue to the Ester Volunteer Fire Department - accepted the donation.
"This will give the animals a little better chance for survival," said Debby Hassel, president of the fire chiefs association.
The masks attach to equipment firefighters and paramedics use to give oxygen to humans. Until now, rescue workers were used oxygen masks made for humans on injured animals. The masks for humans don't fit animal snouts very well and oxygen leaks, Hassel said.
"It's just really awkward. It doesn't give them a lot of oxygen," she said.
Area fire departments do not keep statistics on how often animals suffering from smoke inhalation are rescued from fires, according to Hassel, but she said animals are rescued a "fair" amount of the time.
Firefighters and paramedics render aid to pets only after humans are rescued and fires are brought under control, Hassel said.
The animal shelter group spent about $1,800 on the masks, according to the group's founder, Ronnie Rosenberg. The idea came from a shelter fund board member.
The organization normally focuses on projects associated with the Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Shelter.
"That is where 99 percent of our energies go but really our mission is to assist the Division of Animal Control," Rosenberg said. "The emergency services aspect of animal control is something that we would be involved in."