April Walton returned home from a recent dinner to find her Southwest Third Court house in flames, firefighters scurrying to extinguish the blaze that ignited from a faulty dishwasher.
She immediately thought of her three Weimaraners inside the house: Tessa, 9; Jetta, 6; and Luke, 5.
Fortunately for the dogs, Plantation's six firetrucks are each equipped with two oxygen masks specially designed for pets, and the firefighters have undergone training in pet CPR. It was the first time Plantation firefighters got to use the oxygen masks and their pet-CPR skills since getting the equipment several months ago.
They were able to revive Tessa and Jetta, who ''got right back up'' after receiving oxygen, said Battalion Chief Joel Gordon. Walton took the dogs to a veterinary clinic, where they recuperated for a week before returning home.
But Luke's heart had stopped beating when firefighters carried him from the house. Despite the firefighters' efforts, Luke died from the superheated fumes he breathed during the fire.
''Just like humans, when dogs are exposed to the products of combustion and superheated gases, their lungs get singed,'' Gordon said. ``The probability for surviving that is very low.''
For Walton, who has moved out of her home while workers repair the smoke and water damage, the experience showed her the importance of the animal life-saving devices.
''If the rest of us deserve to be saved from fires, why shouldn't our pets be taken care of, too?'' said Walton, 59. ``The firefighters did an amazing job -- amazing -- saving those dogs.''
Walton and her daughter, Johnna Hammatt, are both active members of Weimaraner clubs in South Florida and in Spring Lake, N.C., where Hammatt is a police officer. Through the clubs, donations have poured in to the Luke Memorial Fund, which Walton and Hammatt hope to use to buy animal oxygen masks for other fire departments in Broward County and in North Carolina.
Already, they have bought a set of three masks for the fire department in Spring Lake.
Gordon and Dr. Joyce Loeser, the Plantation veterinarian who donated the masks and trained the firefighters, have decided to make up cards for fire victims with pets, giving owners the names and numbers of three 24-hour veterinarians to visit for a follow-up care after a fire.