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Experiencing a fire is devastating enough, but when pets are involved, the stress and anxiety can get even worse.

Since 2007, Racine paramedics have carried oxygen kits in frontline ambulances specifically for dogs and cats and have saved at least a dozen furry lives.

The original sets were donated in April 2007 by residents Mary Hesthaven and Bob Kloski and the Racine Firefighters Local Union 321. The kits went into rotation the next day, and Racine Fire Division Chief Nick Hempel said they’ve come in handy.

“I used one during an incident in West Racine,” he recalled. “We brought the dog out and were able to administer oxygen with the mask to save its life.”

Most recently, a dog was saved when a home filled with carbon monoxide.

Hempel said the masks are a vast improvement over the method firefighters used to employ.

“Before we got the kits, we used to wrap the animal in a blanket and make like a funnel around it’s face to blow oxygen at them,” he said. “It worked, but it wasn’t as easy-to-use as the kits.”

Both dogs and cats can be treated with the masks, Hempel added. Each kit comes with a variety of sizes to account of the variety of pets firefighters encounter.

Since the original donation, replacement kits have been purchased for about $75 each. Hempel said it’s just about time to re-order the kits, and even though they aren’t used very often, the masks are a valuable addition to the department.

“These are much more efficient than the way we used to do things,” he said. “We’ve saved quite a few animals, and that’s always a great feeling.”