Blythe Park School third graders have raised almost enough money for five special oxygen masks that will help save pets during fires.

While the children finish their fundraiser, the Riverside Fire Department is researching new policies to carry such masks, made to fit better over the mouths of dogs and cats to provide life saving oxygen during rescues.

The masks have become popular for use with a few Chicago area fire departments, such as Antioch, Buffalo Grove and Wauconda. However, emergency medical service experts such as Mark Cichon, director of EMS for the Loyola University Medical Center, say that procedures need to be created before the masks are carried on fire trucks.

“We’ve been looking at inquires from a few fire departments such as Riverside for carrying the masks,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing that schoolchildren get involved, but we want to set up procedures to make sure we’re not jeopardizing anyone’s safety.”

Eight-year-old Emily Michl of Riverside heard about the news reports of other towns’ fire departments getting the masks, and thought she should do something for her community.

“Pets are really important to people,” Michl said. “If there was a fire, I’d want them to be saved.”

Her mother, Kim Michl, said Emily is full of ideas to help animals.

“She once formed a club to raise money to save pandas,” Kim Michl said.

The masks cost about $50 a piece, or $250 for five of them.

“It seemed like a doable amount,” Kim Michl said.

Most of Emily’s third grade class at Blythe Park in Riverside sold bottled water and juice at the Riverside Police Department’s bicycle safety rodeo May 14, raising a little more than $100. The children also helped out with a bake sale at the Riverside Junior Women’s Club, and raised another $80.

“We’re putting our heads together to figure out how to raise the rest,” Kim Michl said. “We hope to have it raised by the end of the school year, June 9, so the kids can present the money to the department.”

Noah Buckley, the EMS coordinator for the Riverside Fire Department, said he’s waiting for an answer from Loyola about using the masks. He admits the question is a new one.

“What we know about animals is how they respond to a fire,” Buckley said. “Usually cats will hide and dogs will try to get out; you open the door and the dog will be right there. These masks should help get them air if they’re suffering from smoke inhalation.”

There are safety issues to explore, Cichon said.

“Animals can turn wild when awakened after great stress, and then, what do you when you save them? We can’t put them in the ambulance, they need veterinary help,” Cichon said.

He said he understands the public’s desire to provide pet safety.

“They’re just like another family member. Whatever the case is, we want to make sure we’re doing everything possible, whether it’s providing new training or implementing procedures for pet revival.”

To help Blythe Park’s third-grade class raise the rest of the pet mask money, call Kim Michl at 442-8412.