Include Pets in Your Fire Escape Plan

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  After several apartment fires in the metro, it’s important to go over your family plan and even make your pet is a part of it.

“Keep an extra collar and a leash at your door so that you are not fumbling around trying to find something like that. Have it ready so you can just grab your pet and go,” said Amy Heinz, founder of AHeinz 57 Pet Rescue.

Urbandale Fire Chief Jerry Holt said firefighters understand how important pets are to their owners.

“Our biggest advice is take them with you when you go. If that’s not possible, get your family members out and then you can go to a door and continue to try and holler for the pet as long as it’s safe to do that,” Holt said.

It’s also important to remember to approach scared pets a little differently.

“Some pets will just run to you for help and that’s great, that’s the easiest scenario. Some pets will hide. They’ll hide under beds, hide in closets. And if you go to reach for them, your face is right there," said Heinz. "Especially with a cat, it’s best to throw something over them, a blanket or a towel, something to help you from getting injured. And with dogs it’s probably a good idea to call in some animal control people. Some dogs might attack because they don’t know what’s going on."

In addition to having a plan, get a sticker or window cling at the pet store to display in front of your home that lets firefighters and others know there is a pet inside.

“It can’t hurt. So I would urge people to get one of those window clings and put it on there. Plus also if the firefighters do see it, it warns them. If the family is not home, it warns the firefighters that there could be dogs in there and they might be scared, and dogs who are scared can be aggressive,” Heinz said.

In any situation, people are the firefighters' first priority, but they do try their best to save animals, too.

“We are going door to door trying to make sure nobody’s trapped, nobody’s unconscious in there. While we are doing that, we are hoping that any animals are going to come out, but if we do a quick search in there and don’t see any people, we go onto the next one because there is so much more to do,” Holt said.

When animals are rescued, most of the metro fire departments are prepared.

“We do carry the pet friendly masks so that if we get an animal out that has had some smoke inhalation, we have a mask that we can apply oxygen to them,” Holt said.

Heinz said pets sometimes escape, and if you don’t know if your pet got out, don’t lose hope.

“Sometimes the pets get out. Hopefully the firefighters just open the doors and let them run, because scared pets can bite. Firefighters of course don’t want to deal with that. But then they can just run off and in the case of the house we were helping with, once everything calmed down, the sirens were gone, people were gone and it was quiet, the pets came back home,” Heinz said.

She also advised people talk with their neighbors so they know who exactly is in the house and vice versa.

“A lot of times we don’t talk to our neighbors anymore, and it’s really important that we share that information, especially in apartment buildings where who knows what’s in each room and what firefighters are going to encounter,” Heinz said.