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The phrase “lucky dog” certainly applies to Cola, an 8-month-old female Great Dane whose life was saved late last month by the efforts of a fast-thinking and compassionate crew of Fairfax County firefighters who soon will receive an award from PETA for their actions.

On Nov. 29, otherwise known as “Black Friday,” firefighters from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue station No. 39-North Pointe, responded to a house fire at approximately 7:30 p.m. on the 700 block of Forest Park Road in Great Falls.

“There was heavy, thick, black smoke coming from the eaves when we arrived,” said Lt. Randal Bittinger. “We had to force the front door open due to the fact that there was a keyed deadbolt on the inside.”

According to Bittinger, the fire originated in the kitchen and the two-story split-level home had a total of six separate pockets of fire, making it difficult to concentrate on them all at once. “No one was home, but neighbors told us there were two dogs living in the home,” he said. “Visibility within the house was zero due to all the thick, black smoke, but we discovered two dog cages that were open and empty.” Bittinger said one of the dogs was discovered outside unharmed and firefighters then began their search for the second one.

“I eventually discovered her between two armchairs in a den,” said firefighter Trisha Danula. “She was unconscious and barely breathing, and had inhaled heated gas and a lot of smoke. I don’t think she would have lasted much longer on her own.”

Even though only a puppy, the 8-month-old Great Dane weighed more than 100 pounds, and was awkward to lift, Danula said. With the help of firefighter Ryland Chapman, she took Cola out of the burning home and into the front yard. “While we were transporting Cola, Ryland took off his own air mask and put it on her,” Danula said. Once outside, Cola was revived at the scene using a specialized pet oxygen mask, something that now is standard issue for Fairfax County firefighters.

“I’d say they have been standard issue for the last three years,” Bittinger said. “They come in two sizes and are designed to be used on all animals, including cats, ferrets, dogs and even in some cases, deer.”

Bittinger said although the pet masks are standard issue, they are only used once or twice a year by his crew, on average. “Unfortunately, we don’t always find pets in time to be able to use them,” he said. “But in this case, we were able to use it to save Cola’s life.”

According to Danula, 10 minutes or so after the mask was applied to Cola, she began showing signs of recovery. “She actually sat up,” Danula said. “She wasn’t 100 percent, but we knew she was breathing.”

Cola then was immediately taken by ambulance to Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, and eventually transported to VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center in Merrifield.

“They have a special hyperbaric chamber there for animals,” said Danula. “It is the only one in the area. Cola was placed inside and that helped her out a lot.”

The next day, six members of the 11-person fire and rescue crew went to visit Cola.

“She was standing up on her own and looked like she was doing much better,” Danula said.

Once she is fully recovered, Bittinger said he plans to have Cola and her family over to the firehouse for a celebratory dinner.

For the crew’s efforts in saving the two dogs, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department now will receive PETA’s Compassionate Fire Department Award.

“The brave members of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department are truly heroes because they don’t consider their job done until all residents — both human and nonhuman — have made it to safety,” said PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA hopes the compassion and know-how shown by these first responders will inspire others always to come to the aid of animals in need.”

According to PETA, as part of the award, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will receive a framed certificate, a letter of appreciation, and a box of vegan chocolates.

“We’re not exactly sure what vegan chocolates are,” said Bittinger, “but as firefighters we are always up for anything.”



gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com