KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – A car crash led to a fight for a furry friend’s life last week. Now, the Kingsport Fire Department (KFD) has one woman’s gratitude after they brought her dog back from the brink.

Rico had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when KFD crews found him. (Photo/Kingsport Fire Department)

“Of course, you’re always in shock at first,” said Ellen Johnston, who owns Rico, an 8-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. When she got involved in a car crash on Aug. 4, she and Kingsport firefighters at the scene found that everyone was just fine aside from the shock. Everyone, that is, except Rico.

“He was stiff, his head was jutted,” Johnston said. “And I picked him up and carried him to the firetruck not knowing if they could or would do anything.”

What they could — and would — do was the small task of saving Rico’s life. At first, crews with the KFD thought he might have been having a seizure, but his lack of a pulse told them he was in dire need of attention.

“We immediately placed oxygen on him, and performed CPR,” said Kevin Risney, a 20-year veteran and engineer for Engine 6.

The little dog was in cardiac arrest — his heart had stopped from the sheer stress of the ordeal.

A set of pet oxygen masks rests on the bumper of Engine 6. (Photo/WJHL)

While fire crews are used to responding to minor and major injuries, the unique nature of Rico’s problem meant that a specialized tool made just for dogs like him was needed to do the job.

Miniature oxygen masks with rubber rings around the opening allow first responders to provide air to snouts of all sizes, and Engine 6 just so happened to have a set and the training to use them.

“Normally, this isn’t in our textbook for pets,” Risney said. “But the department went above and beyond to make sure that we’re trained to better help our community.”

While establishing oxygen for the dog, crews were also working on chest compressions to restart his pulse. The process is similar to human resuscitation but takes its own twist for such small, delicate animals. Risney said he encourages all pet owners to learn the respective CPR technique for their own pets.

After a while, Rico’s pulse and breathing had returned. His consciousness, however, hadn’t. Crews took him to a local animal clinic, where he remained unresponsive. After two days of constant monitoring, Rico woke back up and was ready to go back home to his family.

Rico loves people, and Johnston said he’s never met a stranger. (Photo/WJHL)

“He’s really doing well, and we’re so thankful to have him,” Johnston said. “He’s doing great, and we’re just really thankful to Kevin and to the fire department for all that they did because they were the ones that made a difference for us and him.”

Once Rico had gotten the chance to relax at home, Johnston took him back to the station to visit the crew that held his paw through the whole experience.

“This was a first for me,” Risney said of Rico’s condition and recovery. “In my 20-year career, so far.”

While he wasn’t awake for the first time they met, Rico was more than happy to spend time getting held and pet by every station employee he could get close to.

Rico has a recovery ahead of him that’s expected to be easy compared to what he went through. He was foggy at first, given the oxygen deprivation, but Johnston said she’s seen him get better every day. He’ll be working on increasing his activity level and getting back out to cuddle the public like he loved to do before the accident.