A mid-day house fire in North Smithfield leaves a home in ruins. And one elderly couple is now breathing a sigh of relief, while thanking others for saving their family.
Through the smoke and soot, on 1312 Pond House Road, came a story of hope and survival of another kind.
The couple's prized possession, a chubby, 8-year-old Chihuahua mix was also caught in the blaze. And for nearly 20 minutes after they escaped, both senior citizens thought their precious pup had perished.
"The occupants were screaming that their dog was still in the house, they were very upset," North Smithfield Chief Joel Jillson said.
The Chihuahua's name is Casey, and she's apparently still got a lot of living to do. Unbelievably the tiny dog made it through about twenty minutes in the home, while it burned!
After fighting the fire from the exterior for quite some time, North Smithfield Fire Captain Norman Malboeuf was entering the home from the front door to knock down some flames from the inside, when suddenly, "(Another firefighter said) There's a dog. And I looked down, and I was kind of dumbfounded. If you had seen what was left of the house, you wouldn't believe anything could survive. So I went down to pick it up, and it ran back in, so we went back to the door, and it actually ran back out, and we were able to grab it when it came back out."
And Malboeuf said he'll never forget the look on the owners face when he returned Casey to his arms.
"He thought the dog was lost, and he went immediately into tears," Malboeuf said. The chief just couldn't believe that the tiny dog had survived.
"So it was a surprise, 20 minutes into the fire, when one of our firefighters opened the door, and accessed a still functional, alive and yipping puppy," Jillson laughed.
Thankfully, about 20 minutes before the dog was located, a family friend who happened to be working inside the home when the fire broke out heard the fire alarm, pulled the couple outside to safety, and called 911.
Jillson said, "The house was fully involved, heavy smoke, fire from all windows."
But that's not all. There were other obstacles that prevented the crews from getting to the home, or the dog sooner. Malboeuf said, "There was some electric lines that were still charged in the house, and there were lines that were arcing and sparking."
But on top of that, there were still other problems to consider. "The husband is an invalid and confined to a wheelchair, and the wife has a degree of Alzheimer's, so shortly after we arrived we could hear were oxygen cylinders exploding from the intense heat," the North Smithfield fire chief said.
Given all that the family, the fire crew and the dog went through, even the chief admits it's amazing all parties survived.
"That couple really owes their life to that gentleman, Charles Milano, who was working in their home, noticed the fire, and brought them out to safety. Charlie was actually a firefighter himself here in North Smithfield at one time. He's an ex volunteer firefighter. We will be acknowledging his heroics at a later date in a formal ceremony soon," Chief Jillson said.
But although the two homeowners were too upset to talk, their grateful daughter Dawn Fisante had plenty to say about the family friend who saved her parents, and the firefighter who rescued their beloved dog.
Fisante said, "If it wasn't for them, then they wouldn't be here with us tonight. Casey means a lot to them. It's one of the only things they really have left, and they're very grateful they have something left from the fire."
This is not the only dog Malboeuf has saved in North Smithfield. Last year the veteran firefighter used a specially created protective barrier to perform mouth to mouth on a Labra doodle that had succumbed to smoke inhalation in a fire. That dog also survived.
Malboeuf said now that he's got two 'dog saves' under his belt, he's earned the nickname 'The Dog Whisperer' amongst his buddies at the North Smithfield Fire Station.
And Malboeuf takes the ribbing in stride, saying he'd do it over and over again, if given the choice.
He said, "With the elderly couple's house being lost, it ended up that at least something came out of the fire that was nice with the dog being okay, you know?