The Canandaigua Fire Department received its first pet oxygen mask kit almost five years ago, but more agencies are getting theirs through donations from Project Breathe.

CANANDAIGUA — As fire departments across the Finger Lakes region receive donations of pet oxygen mask kits from Invisible Fence Brand — most recently the Auburn Fire Department and Cohocton Fire Department — residents can rest assured in knowing the Canandaigua Fire Department has had one for almost five years.

Project Breathe, a nonprofit organization under the Invisible Fence Brand, began in 2006 and has since donated more than 10,000 masks to fire departments across the U.S. and Canada. The Rochester office joined the project in 2011 and by the end of May will have donated 140 kits to fire and other emergency departments across the region. The nearby Invisible Fence of the Finger Lakes, Midstate and Syracuse, which has donated nearly two dozen masks as well.

“When this program started, there was a study done that said 40,000 pets a year die from smoke inhalation," said Kurt Grage, owner of Invisible Fence of the Finger Lakes, Midstate and Syracuse. "We wanted to change that. By having our masks available and by training departments, the increase of the likelihood that we’re going to save pets from smoke inhalation goes up.”

The kits come with three different-sized masks to fit almost any pet, including dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, guinea pigs and more. Each mask is designed to release a specific amount of oxygen based on the animal’s size and weight.

Amy Pusateri, a Project Breathe representative from the Rochester office, said these kits are donated at no charge. They will give at least one kit to every fire department that requests a donation.

Rochester’s office will have donated 30 kits this month by May 31, Pusateri said. The number of donation requests has dramatically increased this year, which she said is due to increasing awareness of Project Breathe. Members of area fire departments talk to one another, which has led towns on the outskirts of Rochester and Canandaigua to start making more requests.

In August, the Rochester Fire Department used pet oxygen masks to save from a house fire two dogs who might have otherwise died. In the five years since the Canandaigua Fire Department received its kit, it hasn’t needed to use the masks yet, Capt. Jay Boock said.

Canandaigua student volunteer firefighter John Dey volunteers at the Bristol Volunteer Fire Department as well, where he was trained to use the masks. The masks are simple to use and advantageous to have, Dey said. Although the department hasn’t used the masks yet, Boock said the kit is just another good tool to have on board.

“At some point it’s going to come in handy to have on our truck,” student volunteer Keghan Kelly said. “If you don’t have one and you need it ...”

“... Then you’re back to doing it the old way,” Boock completed the thought.

The "old way” involved rescuers using human masks. These masks fit perfectly on a person’s face, but for animals with snouts, the most a rescuer could do was hold the mask near the pet’s face to blow oxygen on it.

“It worked better than nothing, but it wasn’t as good as something that’s directed right on them,” Boock said.

This is what the fire department in Hornell, a Steuben County city about an hour southeast of Canandaigua, does right now to resuscitate pets. A house fire in Hornell killed two dogs and a cat on Monday, and although the masks wouldn’t have saved the animals by the time the firefighters could get to them, Chief Dan Smith said the masks would have been good to have. He hadn’t known about Project Breathe before, but he said he now plans to request a kit donation soon.

“It’s a great idea, and whatever we can do to save a family’s pet, we’ll absolutely go the extra mile to do that,” Smith said.

Fire departments understand that pets can be as much a part of a family as people are and go to great lengths to save them from house fires, Pusateri said.

“If you’re going through all of that to save a pet, you might as well use the proper equipment to further your save,” Pusateri said. “It definitely makes a difference in pets’ lives when using a pet mask rather than a human mask. The pet mask is more form fitting, which allows more oxygen through.”

Since Invisible Fence offices do not turn down donation requests, Pusateri recommends all fire departments request a kit. Requests can be made by clicking on Project Breathe at invisiblefence.com.