Kathy Antoniotti

BARBERTON: After reading news accounts of donated oxygen masks for pets earlier this year, Barberton fire Chief Kim Baldwin realized his department also lacked the equipment necessary to revive nonbreathing animals in an emergency.

Baldwin, who accepted four of the life-saving masks Thursday, said unbeknownst to him, while researching ways to obtain Pet Oxygen Recovery Mask Kits, students in the four-city educational compact’s Advancement to Nursing classes at Barberton High School had a project with the same goal well under way.

“Many people view their pets as family members,” Baldwin told a crowd gathered for the presentation of the mask kits by Invisible Fence Brand employees Thursday in Barberton.

“Guys in the fire service know that, unfortunately, there is not a lot we can do for pets,” that suffer smoke inhalation in a residential fire, Baldwin said.

The Advancement to Nursing class — students from Barberton, Copley, Norton and Wadsworth high schools — took on the challenge of obtaining oxygen mask kits as part of their SkillsUSA’s Career Pathways Showcase community project after attending a Barberton City Employee Community Health Fair in the fall. Under the guidance of teachers and registered nurses Debbie Ritz and Cindy Boswell, the students developed a plan and embarked on fundraising efforts to help provide and train area fire and police departments to administer oxygen to animals, from dogs to hamsters, that stop breathing due to various medical emergencies.

As part of the project, students collected all the data necessary for the program and conducted a survey of pet owners with the help of instructor Cindi Loe from the American Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties.

“We did the research and learned that 62 percent of households own a pet,” said Megan North, 16, of Norton.

After collaborating with Loe, each of the nursing students became certified in dog cardiopulmonary resuscitation and set a goal to increase community awareness by offering to provide their demonstration to any group that asks for them, said Marissa Hire, 16, of Wadsworth.

The students explained their mission to representatives from area police and fire departments who had gathered at Barberton’s Central Station to accept their kits. The students raised $400 toward financing the project at Medina Swarm Agility in Wadsworth by handing out homemade dog treats and giving their presentation to area groups, Hire said.

Rob Myers, of Invisible Fence Brand in Canton, told the group that the company has donated 10,000 masks throughout the U.S. and Canada to first responders since the program, called Project Breathe, was established in 2006. The masks are credited with saving the lives of 80 pets, including two in Columbus in June and one pet recently in Akron.

“Forty thousand pets a year die in fires, most of them, from smoke inhalation,” Myers told the group. “Invisible Fence is in the business of keeping pets safe at home.”

Invisible Fence donated 57 oxygen kits to 15 area police and fire departments Thursday. With help from the Red Cross, students raised about $700 in donations for the project.

Each mask kit cost the company $60, Invisible Fence representative Kaitlin Jocke said.

Although the company accepts donations for Project Breathe, it is not necessary for safety forces to obtain masks, she said.

“Any fire department or first responders can make a request for masks online” at www.invisiblefence.com/02, Jocke said.

Copley fire Lt. Chris Bower, who received seven donated kits Thursday, said department members will get the necessary training to use them.

“This is an area we get hardly any training in. If it wasn’t for these students, I doubt we would be able to do this,” he said.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.