A week or so ago a friend of mine contacted me to see if I would donate a training session for a fund raiser. A dear friend of hers, Scott, had just lost everything - including his beloved dog Truman, in a house fire.
One of the things in Scott's story is that the fire started in a neighbors apartment. He went downstairs to check it out. He told his dog to stay, and he closed the door behind him. He thought he had time to get back upstairs to Truman - and he might have. However, the cops would not allow him to go back up the six steps to get his dog, nor would the cop open the door to release the animal.
Truman died following his owners last command: "Stay".
I'm an animal expert, not a fire expert and one thing I know all too well is that animals will react in desperate ways when faced with danger. It's the basic fight or flight instinct that all animals have including people. If that door flew open and there was a fireman with his ax, or a cop with his uniform barking orders, Truman would have one choice to make: Fight or Flight. We can say we know our dogs and that they'd never bite a soul, but we know our dogs in the context of pet dog. If we're lucky, we never see them in a life threatening emergency.
The fire experts have their mission: Don't let anyone into the building that isn't qualified to be there, get everyone out, and stop the fire. We all want to hear the story as to how the fireman saved the dog - and if it were Sadie, I'd want her to be rescued. I'd be screaming "just open the back door" - "just turn the knob and let her run out". I'd scream until I had no voice left, and would keep on trying. I know that some of those firefighters went in looking for Truman. My dad is a police officer, and with what I know, that cop was trained to not open doors in order to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading before the fire department got there. It's a terrible story, it's tragically sad, and my heart bleeds for this man I've never met.
We all have our directives, our missions, our fears. When they all pile together in one horrific event, your directive is save your dog. The cops directive is get everyone out and manage the situation. The fireman's directive is stop the fire and save any life without risking further spread of the fire. If those directives don't intersect, the best you can hope for is that you did everything you possibly could have ahead of time so the firemen can find your dog, and hopefully come out with a successful rescue.
Keep fire extinguishers in the Kitchen. According to the National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA), more fires start in the kitchen than in any other part of the house, as this fire did. The second leading cause of fires is related to heating the home.
Don't leave candles unattended. Cats especially are curious and are drawn to the flickering light. Clumsy cats and curious dogs can knock over candles. If you have candles, put them in a safe place when lit so curious paws and wagging tails don't knock them over. This fire was also, started by a candle.
Get down to your dogs level, and look for potential hazards. Can they jump up and turn the oven knobs (I have several clients in which this is a problem). Do they chew electric cords or outlets? If you have a Christmas Tree, are the animals drinking from the water (drying out the tree quicker than you may expect)? We tend to walk around at 5'-6', but our animals are anywhere from a few inches off the ground to a couple feet off the ground. We need to get down on their level and really pet-proof our homes.
Get a Window Cling. These self sticking window clings alert the fire department that there are pets inside if a fire starts while you are absent from your home. Keep them updated with the number of pets in the home.
Keep pets near entrances while you're out. Dogs in crates won't be able to get to safety so keep the crates near a way out. Also, keep extra leashes near ALL entrances- which I personally will be setting out to do today. If Scott leashed Truman before going downstairs to check on his neighbor, and he found it too dangerous, he might have escaped out a different door, with his dog. We never think a fire will spread too quickly and that we'll have time, but as this video shows, they spread VERY quickly. The first thing to do is prepare to get out and then check on people as you escape. Never plan on going back into the home/apartment. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, but GET OUT.
And the easiest thing to do: Fire Alarms. Make sure that your fire alarms are in working order. Fire alarms over 10 years old have a 30% chance at failure during an emergency (according to NFPA). If you have an older fire alarm, replace it. If you haven't checked the batteries, check them. My nurse practitioner is a smart lady- she only sees me once a year, and at every physical she reminds me to check my fire alarm. Make sure there is at least one on each floor of the home, and that you have a plan for a way out, including for your pets.
We NEVER think "it could happen to me". But there are 386,500 homes that this happens to annually. Scott thought that he could go back up the flight of stairs, get his dog and get out to safety after checking on his neighbor. He did the right thing by making sure his neighbor was ok. He also believed the officer would just turn the door knob to let Truman out. He didn't. If it was my animal in there, I'd react out of the same desperation and rage that I, too, would likely be handcuffed and forced to watch my house burn as Scott did - but the cop isn't the bad guy here. He really isn't.
Hopefully, Truman's passing will encourage a few of you MuttStuff supporters to take a quick look around your home, change the batteries, and keep leashes by every door in the home in the event of a situation. And hopefully, you'll never need to use the emergency leashes, but at least you know they are there so you can take your dog with you, no matter what happens.
Stay safe this holiday season.
For more information on Fire Prevention and what you can do, check out NFPA's website, National Fire Prevention Association.