Firefighters: dedicated to human and animal life

Firefighters: dedicated to human and animal life

They’re heroes and for good reason: not only do firefighters save human lives, they also rescue our animal companions.

July 15, 2019 By Louise Dugas

It’s January 26, 2019, a brutally cold night, when a fire consumes a 6-unit building in the Montreal borough of Verdun. This is the fifth emergency call that night. Nancy Cloutier, a 25-year-old firefighter, arrives at the scene and sees a colleague coming out of the fiery inferno with a black and white cat in her arms.

The terrified, haggard animal is soaked through and covered with soot. Nancy doesn’t hesitate: “I took the trembling cat in my arms and carried him into the truck, where I wrapped him in a blanket and gave him oxygen.” Thankfully (and against the odds), the adorable pet, named Twink, recovered.

Life, above all

In another terrifying incident, this time in the Latin Quarter of Montreal, Nancy enters a blazing apartment. She spots a Shih Tzu-like dog on the floor. “The smoke was so thick that I could barely see in front of me," she recalls. Somehow, the dog is still able to breathe. Nancy picks up the tiny animal and makes her way out of the burning building. Outside, a first responder takes the dog and administers oxygen.


Later that same evening, Nancy returns to the scene and asks the neighbours if they know who owns the animal and if the dog is doing well. She meets the dog’s owner. “You saved the only thing I have left,” declared the elderly woman. Says Nancy, "For me, those words were my reward.”

In 10 years, Mathieu Larouche-Fortin has also rescued his share of cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, parakeets and other pets. One day, he even came face to face with a snake! "Our priority is life," says the firefighter, who works in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. “For people who have lost everything—their property, their home—we do everything we can to save their animal companions.”


In addition to animals that are pulled from burning infernos, firefighters also rescue pets from floods, such as the one that inundated Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac last spring. And the animals they save from drowning—by crawling across the ice in the middle of winter. Not to mention terrified animals—including cats and dogs, but also ducks, moose and deer—that firefighters pull out of pipes, sewers and locks with ropes and pulleys.


"Because of smoke detectors and prevention activities, these days we’re saving more animals than humans," says Mathieu.

Masks save lives

"There are 3 million cats and dogs in Quebec," emphasizes our contributor, Dr Michel Pepin, “and about 45% of homes in the province have at least one animal. This means that each time a disaster strikes, there’s a 1 in 2 chance there’ll be an animal in the house."

In 2006, the veterinarian from Laval launched the Réanimo2 program, which encourages veterinarians and members of the public to donate animal oxygen masks to their local fire stations. Today, 130 Quebec municipalities are equipped with masks adapted to different forms of animal snouts. In Montreal, the firefighters’ union itself purchased the equipment last year.

"It cost $10,000 but it wasn’t difficult to convince our members,” says François Rochette, union director at the Association of Firefighters of the city of Montreal. "Firefighters are already very involved with citizens. Masks give animals a higher chance of survival. For me, when I carry a cat or a dog out of a fire and I see the face of the child to whom it belongs, it's worth all the gold in the world.”


9 lives

Cats, it seems, are the most difficult animal to locate during a home fire. “Dogs are accustomed to following their master. They know where the door is,” explains Dr Pepin. “However, cats hide because they’re afraid. Even if we call them, they stay put in their hiding spot.”

Fortunately, "they know their home inside-out and have the instinct to take refuge where there’s the least smoke," says Mathieu Larouche-Fortin. “Cats tend to crawl into a hole, under a bed, inside a box spring ... and because they’re naturally closer to the floor, on their low legs, they manage to survive as the smoke floats above them. Sometimes they’ll come out of hiding once the fire is out. They are really tough.”

Cats are strong and heroic in their own way, such as the black and white feline mentioned earlier. “The firefighter who saved that cat had seen him go by while he fought the fire in another room,” says Nancy Cloutier. “He went looking for the cat and barely 2 seconds later, the ceiling of the room the firefighter had just left collapsed. Four firefighters fell through the hole in the ceiling. If the cat hadn’t drawn that firefighter elsewhere, he would have been crushed to death.”

Twink may have given one of his lives to his lifesaver.

Act now

Put a sticker in a window, on the mailbox or on your front door, indicating the number of animals in the house and be sure to keep the information up-to-date.

Cover Photo: Sylvain Ryan

Photo 1: Association des pompiers de Montréal

Photo 2: Maxime Carrière, fire photographer

Photo 3: James Gagnon

Photo 4: Sylvain Ryan

Photo 5: ZOOKIshop via Etsy

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