Fighting Fires: Safety and Survival Tips Pet Parents Need to Know

The back-to-school commercials may have started airing only days after kids were dismissed for summer vacation, but for most of us, now is the time we finally start thinking about all things fall. As summer winds down and we prepare for the excitement of a new season, there's one lesson every parent needs to remember during the back-to-school blitz -- how to keep pets safe in the event of a house fire.

According to the American Red Cross, home fires begin to increase significantly during the fall and peak in December and January, when wood stoves and fireplaces are used most commonly. I was recently reminded of the devastating effects house fires can have after hearing about a claim that came into the Petplan offices. While her owners were out, a little dog named Carmella accidentally turned on the stove and was caught in a grease fire. She was in dire straits when her owners returned, but they immediately rushed her to the hospital and were able to save her life. Her four-legged sibling was not so lucky.

Tragedies like this underscore the importance of thinking ahead about a fire safety plan for your family -- two- and four-legged alike. Here are some simple tips to keep the ones you love safe during every season.

Where there's smoke...

The number one rule for every household is to have working smoke detectors. A staggering 74 percent of fatalities from house fires occur in homes where there are no smoke detectors (or none that are working properly). Do yourself and your loves ones a favor and use back-to-school time to install fresh batteries in smoke alarms, test them and educate your family about what to do next if something sounds the alarm.

Devise an exit strategy

You already know the importance of creating a family escape plan for emergencies - but make sure that plan includes your pets! Keep a spare slip leash near every exit in case you need to quickly grab it and go (in a pinch, leashes can also keep cats close at hand if there's no time to take a carrier). One of the tough realities of pets and house fires is that sometimes, our furry friends tend to hide out of fear when emergencies strike. It is important to teach your children to get out of the building immediately -- even if Fluffy is hiding -- and let the professionals with protective gear and breathing masks go in to save the family pets.

Alert the authorities

Of course, you can make a firefighter's job of finding and rescuing your pets much easier if they know who to look for. Fire safety stickers are available at most pet stores and online (we offer a free Pet Rescue Alert you can download and customize with your pet's photo on Petplan's website) -- buy or download a few and sick them near every entrance to your home. Be sure to include the number of pets in your home, and their species, name, photo (if possible) and description. It's important to include your pet's name so that rescuers can to call him or her. You may want to consider putting glow-in-the-dark tape around the border of the sticker so it can easily be located, even in the dark. One note about those stickers: remove them if your pet passes away and there are no animals in your house. You don't want to unnecessarily put a firefighter's life at risk rescuing a pet who is no longer in the home.

Help everyone breathe easy

Did you know that many local fire departments have pet-specific oxygen masks? If a rescuer gets your pet safely out of the burning home, they can often revive him or her with the proper equipment. Specially-designed animal masks can be used both on conscious pets that have suffered from smoke inhalation and pets that need to be resuscitated after losing consciousness from exposure to toxic fumes. Unfortunately, these masks are not standard-issue for every fire station in the country, so it may be up to you and your neighbors to help your local firefighters obtain them. There are a number of organizations out there working to make sure pet oxygen masks are widely available; a simple Google search can point you in the right direction if you want to make sure your community has access to this lifesaving equipment.

During the hustle and bustle of the back-to-school season, don't forget to take a little time to educate your entire family about the importance of proper fire safety measures. Every second counts during a house fire - taking time to prepare your pack ahead of time can help ensure that everyone escapes safely.