Update: " Firefighters Recount Rescue of Dogs from House Fire" (With Video)

Volunteer firefighters from Lawrence Township helped rescue about 20 dogs and newborn puppies from a house fire in neighboring Hopewell Township Monday evening (April 2).

Playing an integral role in saving many of the animals who were overcome by smoke after being trapped in the burning home for as much as a half-hour were three oxygen masks specially designed to fit pets. The masks were donated earlier this year by the Humane Society’s New Jersey chapter to .

Some of the puppies that were rescued were only days old and were so tiny that one firefighter carried several of them out of the burning house all at once cradled inside his helmet.

The front lawn of the house in the 2300 block of Pennington Road (Route 31), near Interstate 95, turned into a makeshift animal hospital as a dozen firefighters and emergency medical service personnel worked to revive many of the rescued pets with oxygen while providing the other dogs that were in better condition with bowls of water and blankets.

Hopewell Township Police Chief George Meyer said the blaze was reported at 7:57 p.m. by 49-year-old Ramona Burnett, who rents one of two apartments in the two-story house.

He said Burnett smelled smoke upon entering the apartment and quickly discovered fire burning in her son’s bedroom on the first floor. Burnett’s son, who is 13, had already fled the house, he said.

He said the resident who lives in the other apartment located in the house was not home at the time.

Heavy smoke was billowing from all sides of the house and flames were visible at the rear when the first police officers and firefighters arrived on the scene, Meyer said.

Responding to battle the blaze were all three Hopewell Valley volunteer fire companies – Pennington Borough, Hopewell Borough, and Union Fire Co. of Titusville – along with the West Trenton Volunteer Fire Co. from Ewing Township and the Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville volunteer fire companies from Lawrence Township.

Led by Pennington Fire Chief James DeForte, firefighters managed to bring the blaze under control in about a half-hour. Meyer said fire damage was sustained to parts of both the first and second floors, while other parts of the house sustained varying degrees of smoke, heat and water damage.

A handful of dogs were rescued from the burning home within the first few minutes of firefighting operations. They were carried to the front lawn, where they were revived by Lawrence Road firefighters using the special pet masks.

Lawrence Road Fire Chief Shaun Dlabik said the three masks – one small, one medium and one large – were donated to the fire company in January by the Humane Society, which also donated masks to Ewing Township’s three volunteer fire companies. The donations were in recognition of the four fire companies’ roles in saving a dog from a house fire on Wiscassett Avenue in Ewing on Sept. 4, 2011.

The “O2 Fur Life” masks, manufactured by Wag’N Pet Safety, are specially-designed to provide life-saving oxygen to a variety of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds.

Lawrence Road firefighters conducted training to familiarize themselves with the masks after the fire company received them from the Humane Society, but the fire Monday night was the first time they used the masks for real, Dlabik said. A sticker affixed to one of the windows of Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 fire engine reads “Pet Oxygen Masks On Board.”

After the fire was brought under control and firefighters were able to make a thorough search of the house, the additional dogs and puppies were discovered.

The pets, in varying states of distress, were carried out of the house one after the other by firefighters. With so many dogs being pulled out at one time, the special pet masks were used primarily on the puppies and dogs that had been exposed to the most smoke. Pennington Borough First Aid Squad personnel used traditional oxygen masks on the dogs that were in better shape.

Cages found in the house were carried outside to the front lawn to help corral the 20 or so dogs after they were revived.

Meyer said the residents who were displaced by the fire planned to stay with friends. Neighbors, meanwhile, agreed to shelter some of the dogs, while the rest of the pets were placed in the care of Hopewell Township Animal Control officials.

While no human injuries were reported, at least one dog was found dead within the house, Meyer said.

A total of 1,900 feet of hose was laid to the nearest hydrant in Ewing Township to supply water for the firefighting effort. As a result, the entire southbound side of Pennington Road was closed to traffic for about 90 minutes. Some temporary lane closures took place along the northbound side of the road as well.

Meyer said the cause of the blaze is under investigation by Hopewell Valley Emergency Services Chief Matthew Martin and Hopewell Township Police Officer Gerard Infantino and Detective Daniel McKeown.

As of Monday evening, Meyer said police did not yet have an explanation as to why so many dogs had been in the house.

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