In case of fire: Tips for pet safety if a fire breaks out at your home

Published: May. 7, 2021 at 3:31 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Suncoast has been stunned this spring with two heartbreaking, nearly identical tragedies; young girls running into their burning homes to save beloved pets.

In Arcadia in March, 13-year-old Laiellah Hatcher died trying to save her dog. This week in Sarasota, Rilee Beisler, 11, died after rushing inside her burning home to save puppies.

Pets are family; we instinctively would do nearly anything to keep then from harm.

But in the case of a house fire, experts say never -- ever -- go into a burning structure to save a pet or retrieve possessions.

“It’s never advisable to enter a burning structure,” says Bruce Bouch, a fire protection specialist with the U.S. Fire Administration, a department within the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s not the fire,” that presents the most danger, Bouch told ABC7. “It’s the smoke, toxic gas and carbon monoxide.” Bouch said it’s many of the modern materials found in homes -- like plastics and particle board -- that pose the most danger. “They have a higher failure rate and they burn much faster,” than more natural materials. “That’s when it becomes more dangerous.”

It happens quickly. Bouch said typically, a person has three minutes from the time a smoke alarm goes off to be able to escape alive.

Protecting your pet

The American Kennel Club says 40,000 pets die every year in home fires.

What steps can you take to protect them? Some tips from the AKC and American Humane Society:

Before a fire:

  • Include your pet into your family emergency plan and practice taking them with you. Talk with your family members to determine who is responsible for grabbing your pets and who should grab their supplies (food, medication, photo, leashes and carriers, medical records) during an emergency so you can reduce scrambling and redundancy when speed and efficiency are needed.
  • Put a decal in your home’s front window indicating the number and type of pets you have – Providing this information can cut down on the time responders spend searching your home in the case of a fire.
  • Make sure your pet’s updated contact information is reflected on their ID collar and in the microchip database – If your pet gets lost during a fire, this will help rescuers get him or her back to you.
  • Know your pets’ hideaways and create ways for easy access to them in case of an emergency – It’s nice that your pet can get away if he or she wants to, but in an emergency, you need to be able to locate and extract your pet as quickly as possible.
  • Keep pets near entrances when away from home. Keep collars on pets and leashes at the ready in case firefighters need to rescue your pet. When leaving pets home alone, keep them in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them, especially when visibility is low (in the case of smoke).
  • Secure young pets. Especially with young puppies, keep them confined away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home such as in crates or behind baby gates in secure areas.
  • Make sure alarms are working. Also consider using monitored smoke detectors which are connected to a monitoring center so that emergency responders can be contacted if you’re not home. These systems provide an added layer of protection beyond battery-operated smoke alarms.

During a fire:

  • Attempt to grab your pet and exit the home as quickly as possible, but if it takes too long to locate or secure them, leave – You should never delay escape or endanger yourself or your family. Once responders get there, immediately inform them your pet is still inside, so they can go enter your home and continue looking for your pet.
  • Grab leashes and carriers on your way out – Outside will be chaotic and that may cause your pet to try to escape to a calm, safe area.
  • Never go back inside a burning house. If you can’t find your pet, leave, open the door, and call to them repeatedly from a safe distance away. Let firefighters take over the task of locating your pet.

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