COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Nearly 400 fire trucks across South Carolina are now stocked with lifesaving equipment for animals in distress, and that's in large part thanks to two Midlands women.
Over the last three years, longtime friends Mary Ellen Tobias and Nena Sinclair have made it their mission to make sure every fire truck in that state gets that same equipment.
"It's been a Godsend because we've had some good saves with a couple of animals," Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said. "It's been wonderful."
Every frontline apparatus, fire engine, ladder and rescue truck for the Columbia Fire Department has a pet oxygen kit thanks to Tobias and Sinclair. Their mission started in 2014 when the duo saw a Columbia Fire Department rescue during a house fire on a WIS newscast.
"There was a kitten, a little gray kitten, and he was completely lifeless laying there," said Tobias. "He pulled out one of the oxygen kits that they had on the truck hooked him up, and as they were closing out the story the kitten was drinking water out of one of those big fireman's hand and I just lost it right there on the spot."
Tobias says the next day she drove to the Blythewood Fire Department to make sure they had a pet oxygen kit and when they didn't, she bought one for them. She and Sinclair didn't stop there.
"We scrambled around and in a week's time we raised enough money to outfit Richland County," Sinclair said. "Then we started talking and said let's take it on statewide, so 12 counties later, we're still rolling and excited about it, and without great people out there helping us along, we couldn't do it."
The pair says each pet oxygen kit is $85 and comes with three different sizes of oxygen masks, oxygen air tubes, a leash, and other resources. The kits are often not covered under a fire department's budget, so the duo says the recent surprise that they are our latest Community Builder in partnership with Mungo Homes will make a huge difference.
But the friends hope the $1,000 check they received from Mungo Homes for their charity work, coupled with the continued help of many others will one day help check all 46 South Carolina counties off their list.