Dogs, cats and other furry family members have a better chance of surviving a fire in Detroit Lakes now, thanks to a local Girl Scout troop’s recent donation of animal oxygen masks to the Detroit Lakes Fire Department.

It was the girls’ shared love of animals that motivated them to make the donation, according to their troop leader, Traci Mace. The Detroit Lakes-based Troop 30993, a group of six girls ages 9 and 10, used the proceeds from their recent fundraisers to purchase the masks. They donated three of them, in different sizes made to fit everything from small cats to large dogs.

Taylor Hedman, Natalie Mork and McKenzie Harstad, left to right, are members of the local Girl Scout Troop 30993. (Submitted Photo)
Taylor Hedman, Natalie Mork and McKenzie Harstad, left to right, are members of the local Girl Scout Troop 30993. (Submitted Photo)

“I was happy to donate to help save animals and pets if they need to be saved,” said one of the scouts, McKenzie Harstad.

Another, Taylor Hedman, said, “I liked it because now the animals are protected if they breathe smoke, like humans are. By us donating the masks, it made the firemen happy knowing they can help save someone’s pet.”

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An estimated 40,000 to 150,000 pets die in fires each year in the U.S., mostly due to smoke inhalation. Having the proper equipment on hand helps emergency responders resuscitate and save people’s precious fur babies.

“It’s a great thing,” said Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson of the donation. “We will use them. There is a need for them.”

Swanson said the fire department has never had oxygen masks specifically designed for animals before, and the donation was a welcome addition.

“In the past, if we had an incident where we had to put oxygen on a pet, we would just open the tank and try to get the oxygen as close as we could to the animal so they could, hopefully, start breathing it in,” he said. “Whereas now, we have masks that are made for pets, so they put pressure right on the face and it’s more direct… So if they’re breathing, they’re going to breathe the oxygen.”

Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson, left, with Girl Scouts McKenzie Harstad, Taylor Hedman, Leighauna Tyge, Sydney Mace and Natalie Mork, and Troop Leader Traci Mace. (Submitted Photo)
Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson, left, with Girl Scouts McKenzie Harstad, Taylor Hedman, Leighauna Tyge, Sydney Mace and Natalie Mork, and Troop Leader Traci Mace. (Submitted Photo)

With the department prioritizing its budget on additional PPE (personal protective equipment) during the pandemic, animal oxygen masks weren’t something local firefighters were likely to get in the near future without a donation like this, Swanson added.

Mace said the scouts have made other animal-friendly donations in the past, such as cat toys they made themselves and then gave to the Humane Society, and pet supplies they purchased with fundraiser proceeds and then donated.

“My troop has a great interest in animals,” she said. “They love animals, love to help animals.”

She added that the troop has been able to continue meeting for most of the last year, even with COVID-19 restrictions on group gatherings, because their meetings always include fewer than 10 people.

Firefighter Kris Espe, with Louisa, demonstrates how the masks work. The department has different sized masks to fit small, medium and large pets. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)
Firefighter Kris Espe, with Louisa, demonstrates how the masks work. The department has different sized masks to fit small, medium and large pets. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)