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NIAGARA FALLS – “Be prepared” is not just a Boy Scout motto.

The Niagara Falls Fire Department has started a new program to purchase pet lifesaving oxygen masks and, new this year, it will participate in an international emergency safety and survival training program.

Both programs are paid for with public financial grants.

Wags ’N O2 Fur Life Program provides pet oxygen masks, specially designed to rescue both dogs and cats that need to be resuscitated after they are taken out of a burning building.

Niagara Falls Fire Chief Thomas Colangelo said the department is not allowed to purchase rescue equipment designed for non-humans, but this program allows residents to go online and make donations to Wag ’N O2 Fur Life at www.petoxygenmasks.org and elect to sponsor the Niagara Falls Fire Department for funding. Each kit includes three sizes of oxygen masks and tubes, carrying bags and instructions. The kits cost $75 each.

Colangelo said the program started six months ago, but it has yet to be used.

“Dogs actually fare very well in a fire, likely because they are so low to the ground and sometimes just all they need is some oxygen,” Colangelo said. “In the past we’d try to put masks designed for humans, but that didn’t work too well.”

The pet masks are designed with a cup to fit on the snout of an animal and are similar to those already in use in most veterinarian offices.

He said the Niagara Falls Fire Department has two kits, but would like to eventually have 12, one for each fire engine or truck.

“This program also taught us the right way to do CPR on a dog,” said Battalion Chief Mark Fontanella in the Department of Fire Training. “People are no more thankful then when we bring out a pet,” he said.

Fontanella said this year the department will begin a new fire safety and survival training program using a $42,000 matching grant from the International Association of Firefighters.

“The area in and around a burning building can be very dangerous,” Fontanella said. “We have a mayday, a standard distress call. This class is going to help teach us some of the signs of danger so we won’t have to use mayday and what to do once the mayday happens.”

He said self-rescue skills also are part of the training.

The four day class with instructors from around the United States will be used to ‘train the trainers’ so that those who take the class can pass on these lifesaving techniques.

“All 130 [City of Niagara Falls] firefighters will be trained on this,” Fontanella said.

He said the most important part of this new internationally-sponsored program is that eventually all firefighters will receive this standardized training to react quickly in an emergency.

“We call it organized chaos [when we are the scene of a fire] and when things go bad it’s scary and sometimes it is hard to get out. But if you know for a fact that there will always be a ladder at the back of the building – if you get that standardization when things go bad and stairs are burning – I will know my Rapid Intervention Team put a ladder at the back of the building,” he said. “There’s no more: Where do I go?”

Fontanella said eight to 10 Niagara Falls firefighters will participate in the class to “train the trainers,” along with 20 to 22 paid firefighters from Western New York and volunteer firefighters in the area who will pay to attend, which will offset costs to the city.

He said members of the department constantly participate in training, a mandatory 100 hours in 24 categories each year. He said they recently had their own mayday-type training, called a “bail out.”

He said every air pack has a type of webbing – a rope with a hook – so that a firefighter can get out of a high elevation and get to safety.

“It’s a different drill, but we will be blending that in,” Fontanella said. “It will all be part of our own mayday and rapid intervention training.”

Niagara Falls firefighters also must train for the environment of the area, including swift water and gorge rescues, ice rescue drills and hazmat training designed for enclosed areas to be ready for any emergency at an industrial plant.

“A lot of times it is when someone dies or get significantly hurt we say, ‘What do we do if that happens again?’ That is what we try to learn and teach. So if everybody is on the same team, then it works and they know what to do, before it happens,” Fontanella said.

“We train for the what ifs.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com