You know those stickers you can buy that asks your fire department to save your pets in case of fire? They also call them emergency “window clings” or “window signs.” Well, you can save your money, because all they’re going to wind up being is meaningless “window decoration.” I’m not saying that the manufacturers of these window clings are out to take your money. Perhaps they just don’t know that these stickers aren’t effective for the purpose they’re intended to serve. Here is what I recently learned:
I purchased a sticker because I thought firefighters were trained to look for them. I asked my Fire Chief if there’s a particular window that a sticker like this is best placed for immediate recognition. From what he told me, and I got the impression that this is apparently pretty much universal the way he talked, fire fighters pay absolutely no attention to emergency window stickers.
That’s not to say they won’t attempt to save your pet, but their training standards and policies do not include responding as we think they would upon viewing a window sticker telling them that you have pets in your house and pleads “try to save them.” My thought was that if they know a pet is inside because of the sticker, they would consider this a rescue priority. Oh boy, was I ever wrong! One reason they don’t, is that people move and sometimes the stickers remain in place even if the new homeowner doesn’t have pets. Removing unnecessary stickers might be one of those little details we just don’t get around to right away. So, then the fire fighters are risking their own lives by searching for pets that don’t exist. Not good.
From the discussion I had with my Fire Chief, it’s my understanding that fire fighters do a building search following training standards and guidelines. They will not put any fire fighters(s) at risk to search for pets inside a burning building. I was told they won’t even pick up an occupied crate and carry it out. What they do is to open the crate door and let them out, leaving the pet to find their own way out of the burning house. If they find their way outside in their panic, your terrified pet is left to fend for itself. A pet in a panic situation is probably going to run as far away as it can. It may outlive the fire, but it may not outlive the oncoming car as it dashes across the street to get away from the flames. You can only hope someone on scene will try to confine it for you if you are not there yourself. But remember, a freaked out animal is also a potential fear biter, so anyone making the attempt to snatch Fido up and put him in a safe place, risks being bitten.
Here at our house we find this standard disturbing, but no matter how I tried, there was nothing I could do to sway my Fire Chief to change any rules, policies or ways they do things. Believe me, I tried. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few pet loving fire fighters on the scene that will safely do what they can to help. Chances are they aren’t going to violate policy to do it (which could put their job in jeopardy) and they’re most definitely not going to risk human lives to accomplish trying to save your pet.
I’m not saying that human lives should be put at risk to save a pet, but you’d think there is a better way to do this than to just let a pet loose in a house fire. The chances of them finding their own way out are probably no better than 50/50 which to me is not good enough odds. A panicked pet may just try to find something to hide under or in, which is not going to save their life. Streaking through the house, I tend to think the pet is a liability to firefighters as well.
If the pet is crated, how hard is it to pick up the crate and carry it out? I’ve never been a fire fighter and I don’t mean to be judgemental. Maybe this is significantly more risky than I imagine. Seems to me if the door is a long way from the pet’s location, they might consider breaking a window and handing the crate out to someone waiting. Some crates are to big for this and a panicked animal running loose in a fire is probably going to be impossible to catch in order to hand them out a nearby window.
I keep our furkid’s leashes hanging on the wall by their crates. I balked at my Fire Chief telling me that would do them no good because the fire fighter isn’t going to grab the leash and put it on the dogs to walk them out instead of just opening the crate door. But if you think about that after you calm down, in a way it makes sense. The animal may be cowering at the back of its crate in fear and the owner themself may have difficulty getting the animal to come to them. The fire fighter would have to take time in a burning house to attempt to get the animal leashed before fully opening the crate door. What about the dog that’s reacting aggressively to all that’s going on around it? A terrified animal may just bite the very person that’s trying to save it. The fire fighters wear protective clothing, but this gear is made to be fire retardant, not bite-proof and more than likely not enough to protect them from a dog bite, particularly if the dog is a large one. Trying to put myself in the place of a fire fighter posed with making the instantaneous decision of opening the crate door to a dog or cat to try to try to leash it to walk it out of a house fire, I myself may be forced to think otherwise. Imagine in particular a terrorized protective breed dog, faced with strangers swarming all around their crate, commotion everywhere the dog looks and the house burning down around it.
Is it asking to much for our fire departments to come up with a viable, safe solution to try to save something so precious to the homeowner? Their house is burning, they’re likely going to loose a significant amount of property, perhaps even their home. Do they have to lose their pet, too?
I also have to wonder, if fire fighters aren’t trained to look for emergency window stickers, what does that say about the stickers that tell them their are children or disabled people inside the burning building?
We’d dearly love to hear from some experienced firefighters on this. Maybe you can tell us what your experiences have been fighting fires where there are pets inside. What’s the percentage of pets that survive? How do the pets react? Can you make suggestions for pet owners to help keep their pets as safe as possible should they experience a house fire? Is there anything pet owners can do to help fire fighters be safe and rescue our pets?
*Note that this is how our local fire department operates. Most if not all fire departments must follow certain standards, guidelines and policies. I do believe that some standards are Federally mandated. However, your fire department may do some things differently. This article is not by any means meant to be an overall of every single fire department in the country. We recommend you inquire of your own fire department regarding it’s operating procedures, which may differ from ours.