Desperate homeowner more worried about pets than house

by: COURTESY PHOTO: FOREST GROVE FIRE AND RESCUE - Forest Grove Fire and Rescue Lt. Tony Carter (left) and firefighter Cassie Knierim kneel on the grass strip in front of a Forest Grove home while trying to revive two unconscious dogs taken from a smoke-filled home. Barb Helvi Smith (center, standing) tries to comfort her friend, the homeowner, while a neighbor boy looks on. Gaston firefighters Randy Hoodenpyl and Lt. Jason Kellar also helped, as did Forest Grove firefighter Brad Shinpaugh.An overloaded powerstrip sparked a fire last week that nearly killed two beloved dogs who survived thanks to quick action by Forest Grove Fire and Rescue.

Busy with yard work Wednesday, May 8, the homeowner was using a power leaf blower so did not notice the smoke pouring from her bedroom window until a passerby stopped and alerted her.

The 911 call came in around 4 p.m. and firefighters rushed to the home in the 1600 block of Cedar Street, just a few blocks from the Forest Grove station. In addition to the smoke and flames in the first-floor bedroom, they found heavy brown smoke coming from the roof.

FGF&R spokesman Dave Nemeyer said the distraught homeowner told them her pets were still inside. Crying and desperate, she begged firefighters to “Get my dogs! Don’t worry about the house!”

That’s a common reaction, Nemeyer said. “There’s a lot of people that their dogs are like their kids.”

Lt. Tony Carter of FGF&R loves his own dog but immediately recognized that the homeowner’s dogs “meant more to her than his dogs mean to him” and made their rescue a priority, Nemeyer said.

He found the pets in an upstairs room, unconscious and not breathing.

While 20 other firefighters from Forest Grove, Cornelius, Hillsboro and Gaston worked to extinguish the fire, Carter and firefighter Cassie Knierim took off their oxygen masks and put them over the dogs’ snouts.

“I thought they were dead,” said Barb Helvi Smith, who watched the rescue. Smith, a friend of the homeowner who heard the sirens, checked the emergency-call tracking website at and hurried over after she recognized the address of the fire.

“It looked worse than unconscious to me. Their eyes were glazing over,” Smith said.

But when she put her hand on one of the dogs’ chests, “I could feel the heartbeat, which totally surprised me.”

As Smith, the homeowner and a neighbor boy watched, they saw small signs of life. A leg would jerk or a chest would move, Smith said. “It wasn’t like they jumped up and wagged their tail.”by: COURTESY PHOTO: BARB HELVI SMITH - After care from Forest Grove and Gaston firefighters, Pacific Avenue Veterinary Clinic in Forest Grove and Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency in Hillsboro, the two corgis--Buddy (left) and Lilly--are up and wagging their tails again.

Carter finally picked up the two dogs, one in each arm, and carried them to the car of FGF&R Chaplain Dexter Danielson, who had responded to the 911 call.

Danielson drove the homeowner and her pets to Pacific Avenue Veterinary Clinic, where they began to recover.

“A huge thank you to Pacific Avenue Vet Clinic,” whose staff took in the dogs around closing time, Nemeyer said Monday.

The dogs were later transferred to a 24-hour veterinary clinic in Hillsboro, where they fully revived.

Investigators believe the fire was sparked by a series of overloaded extension cords and power strips inside the bedroom. It took 30 minutes to contain and caused $40,000 to $60,000 of smoke damage, but because the 1948 home had exterior walls made from concrete, the structure is still in excellent shape, according to Nemeyer.

The house fire was the first for Knierim since she became a full-time firefighter at Forest Grove Fire and Rescue.

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