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Tips to keep pets safe when disaster strikes

A cat and five kittens — including the one pictured, named Smokey by staff at The Bluffs Pet Clinic — were rescued June 7, 2017, from a fire at the city of Red Wing Solid Waste Campus. Fire and pet safety organizations advise including pets in family emergency plans. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia

When a fire broke out in a Red Wing house in the early morning hours of May 6, it was barking from the family dog that reportedly helped the occupants escape harm. The household's cat was later rescued by firefighters.

Just over a month later, Red Wing firefighters rescued a cat and five kittens from a fire at the city's solid waste campus. In a similar incident June 13 in Hastings, first-responders retrieved two cats and bearded dragon lizard from a burning duplex.

July 15 has traditionally been observed as National Pet Fire Safety Day, a time to consider where dogs and cats — or lizards and other animal companions — fit into family emergency planning.

"Pets are important members of your family, which is why you need to include them in your escape plan," Minnesota Fire Marshal Bruce West said. "We want everyone to get out safely in the event of a fire. The best way to ensure that happens is by practicing your escape plan with everyone in your family at least twice a year — and that includes your four-legged friends."

Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division offers these steps to help firefighters help pets:

• If your pet stays in a kennel/crate when you are not home, make sure those kennels are near entrances that firefighters can easily access.

• If your pet does not stay in a kennel/crate, keep them in a room close to an entrance.

• Keep collars on your pets and leashes in an accessible and easy-to-find area in case firefighters need to remove your animal from the home.

• Purchase a pet alert window cling for your home's front windows. The clings alert firefighters that animals are inside.

It is important to never go back into a burning structure for a pet, said Matthew Lenz with Red Wing Fire Department. He advised pet owners to notify the dispatcher or firefighters when they arrive on the scene if there is an animal trapped inside a structure and where it can be located.

Lenz also said to get pets out of the way and into a separate room if there is a medical emergency, as they may try to protect their owners when first-responders arrive.

Fire prevention

In addition to being affected by fires, animals also can be responsible for starting them.

Pets and wild animals play a role in as many as 700 fires each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Close to 75 percent of such fires involve cooking equipment, fireplaces, lighting or candles.

The NFPA has the following tips to prevent pets from burning down the house:

• Pets are curious; keep them away from stoves and countertops where they can turn on or knock over cooking equipment.

• Keep pets away from candles, lamps and space heaters.

• Use a metal or heat-tempered glass screen on fireplaces.

• Consider battery-operated, flameless candles in place of open flames.

• Watch pets to make sure they do not chew through electrical cords.

NFPA also advises to never go back inside a burning house to rescue a pet.

More information about pet emergency planning can be found at

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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