Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on September 20, 2021.

Protecting Pets

After dozens of dogs die in a kennel fire in Texas, experts stress the need for fire protection at animal housing facilities


A fire at a pet boarding facility in Georgetown, Texas, on September 18 killed 75 dogs, according to multiple media reports. No animals survived the blaze. 

Experts say the incident, which was one of the deadliest kennel fires in the United States in recent years, highlights the critical importance of implementing fire and life safety protection measures at animal housing facilities. 

“Animals, our livestock, and pets deserve protection,” said Dominick Kasmauskas, a regional director at the American Fire Sprinkler Association. “These are living, feeling creatures just as we are and there is no reason why they should face a death as horrific as dying in a fire.”

For pet owners, specifically, experts say the incident should serve as a reminder of the need to take the steps necessary to ensure their pets are safe when spending a night away from home. 

“Just as you would want fire alarms and sprinklers in a hotel you’re staying at, you want your pet to have a similar level of protection when they’re in a boarding facility,” said Tracy Vecchiarelli, a fire protection engineer at NFPA.

Pet owners should consider asking the staff members at boarding or kennel facilities questions about their emergency procedures, Vecchiarelli said. “Are staff members onsite overnight? Does the facility have a monitored fire alarm system that will alert the fire department of a fire? Is the facility sprinklered? Has the facility completed a disaster or emergency management plan? How will the animals be evacuated in an emergency? Understanding these factors can help pet owners make a good choice when selecting a facility for their pets,” she said. 

NFPA 150 and a need for research 

One of the best resources for protecting animal housing facilities from fire is NFPA 150, Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities Code. Vecchiarelli, who is the NFPA staff liaison to NFPA 150, said the code requires sprinkler protection in pet boarding and care facilities that don’t have 24-hour human supervision. When an attendant is present, the code only requires a fire alarm. 

RELATED: Read a 2018 NFPA Journal story about the evolution of NFPA 150

It’s unclear what systems or procedures were in place at Ponderosa Pet Resort, the facility that burned in Texas over the weekend. It’s also unclear what caused the fire. “We’re looking at all leads possible so that when we look these homeowners back in the eye, the property owners, those that lost family members, we can tell them conclusively what happened,” Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan told CBS 7.

Although NFPA 150 has existed in some form since 1979, it wasn’t until 2006 that the scope of the standard was expanded beyond racehorse stables. The 2019 edition reflected a comprehensive rewrite that was covered in “Critter Life Safety Code” in the November/December 2018 issue of NFPA Journal. 

Since the new edition is essentially only the second version of the modern NFPA 150, Vecchiarelli said there is still room for improvement when it comes to increasing awareness of how to use the document. But references to the standard in recent editions of NFPA 1, Fire Code, and the International Building Code have helped. “More attention is being brought to it, and we’re seeing more adoptions, which is great,” she told NFPA Journal following a massive pig farm fire in Germany in March.

Fires in pet boarding and care facilities are more common than you might think. In April, more than 50 dogs died in a fire at Doggy Style Kennels in Bardstown, Kentucky. The month before, 30 dogs were killed in a fire at Storm’s Head Kennels in Nunica, Michigan. A Chicago kennel fire in 2019 left 31 dogs dead.

While some data is kept on fires in agricultural animal housing facilities, little data has been collected on fires in facilities for pets, Vecchiarelli said. At least one project is now underway to help change that. 

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) is currently working to create a database on animal housing facility fires, which will help inform documents like NFPA 150. Researchers expect the project to conclude by the end of the year, said Jacqueline Wilmot, a research project manager at the Foundation. 

“With this project we hope to bring more exposure to these types of fires and demonstrate the advantages of using NFPA 150,” she said. Read more about the FPRF project.

ANGELO VERZONI is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph: GOOGLE MAPS