By Jon Nowinski
There are an estimated 1.7 million household fires in the U.S. each year, and with nearly one-third of all homes with pets, close to 600,000 of those emergencies will involve animals inside. Here in our area, as the winter settles in and we begin turning on the heat and lighting our fireplaces, the number of house fires dramatically increases, so this is a great time to remind pet owners of some important tips to keep your animals safe and be prepared for emergencies. The first steps to keeping your home and pets safe is to be aware, be prepared, and focus on prevention.
Before you begin turning the heat up, take some time to do a “safety check” of every room in your house, and pay special attention to areas your pets spend their time. Many pet owners place their pet’s beds, toys, and other items close to heat sources, but this can easily spark household fires.
If you have open-heaters it’s a good idea to check around and inside those to make sure pet toys haven’t accidentally gotten stuck inside, as well as making sure that pet hair is cleaned out of them. For those with fireplaces, never place pet beds or blankets close to the fireplace, because even a small ember, or the heat from the fireplace, can cause them to catch fire. Pet items should always be kept a safe distance away from heat sources, and it’s a good idea to check them regularly throughout the winter months.
The unfortunate reality of household fires is that don’t always occur when we are home, and a high number of pet deaths occur because owners didn’t consider what their pets will need if they aren’t there. Smoke alarms, home security systems, and other devices are great for people, but animals in a home have no way of reacting to those. The most important part of preparing for an emergency if you aren’t home is to make sure there are ways for responders and others to be aware that you have pets in your house.
At least one of your neighbors should be aware of the number and type of pets you have, and if you haven’t done so yet, you need to be sure to affix a sticker for responders on your front door or window. Another useful point for first responders is for you to post an “Emergency Pet Information” sheet just inside (or on the back of) your front door. This sheet provides details on your animals, including the location of carriers, cages, leashes, etc. For those with dogs, you should also make sure you always have an emergency leash next to the front door.
*If you don’t have any of these items, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get them for your home* And finally, if you have a home alarm company such as ADT or FirstResponse, make sure that they are aware you have pets in your home. If the alarm rings when you are not home, they contact the local emergency responders directly, and will inform them about your animals.
This summer our organization launched the “EARS Rescue Registry,” which is a database specifically created for animal owners in our state with the aim of holding and providing information for emergency situations. The registry contains a profile of animals at a specific location, including emergency contacts, veterinary information, health details, and other factors that are important for first. Those in our Rescue Registry receive a home sticker and information that provides first responders with instructions on how to contact our Animal Rescue Team who will respond to assist with the animals on site during an emergency.
It doesn’t take much to increase the chance of your pet’s survival in emergencies, but the time to begin and pay attention is before an emergency happens in your home. When you develop an emergency plan for your family, include your pets, as well as including plans for situations where you aren’t home. Make sure you inform a family member and a neighbor about the pets inside your house, and what to do if there is an emergency when you are not home. And, most importantly, assure that first responders to your home have what they need to rescue your pets quickly and safely. A few simple steps can save many lives!
Jon Nowinski is the Director of Operations & Logistics for the Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS). EARS is an all-volunteer Connecticut organization dedicated to preparedness and response for animals in emergencies and disasters. Members of the EARS Animal Rescue Team go through emergency training and certification through FEMA, the Humane Society, and other groups. For more information email email@example.com or visit their website at www.earsct.org.