SCHENECTADY — City firefighters on Friday got to meet the furry fire victim they saved from a Crane Street apartment three months ago.
Bentley bounced and barked outside the Fire Department headquarters on Veeder Street, a far cry from the comatose lump he’d been when three firefighters pulled him out of the kitchen as the ceiling collapsed on them.
For the couple who own him, seeing the dog emerge barely breathing but still alive was a bright moment in a very traumatic night. For the firefighters who gave Bentley oxygen and the police officers who drove him to an emergency veterinary office, it was a good ending to a narrative that often ends sadly.
Chrishaunna Rogers and Rianna Carr were able to check their dog out after five days in the hospital but were unable to pay the $6,000 bill on top of their fire losses.
The Mr. Mo Project, a dog rescue organization, covered the vet bill and community members helped get Rogers and Carr back on their feet with a Go Fund Me drive.
On Friday, the couple brought the pit bull-Rottweiller mix to meet the firefighters who came to their home when it caught fire and saved the puppy that had been part of their family since he was 6 weeks old.
“We’re just so grateful for the Fire Department that responded so quickly to our calls,” Rogers said. “We got to celebrate our dog’s first birthday.”
Bentley, now 13 months old, does not bear any physical scars from the ordeal — it was smoke that nearly killed him, not flames.
But there are some psychological marks since the fire: He hates to be left alone, cuddles up more often and can be clingy. Also, he now has a fixation on moving shadows — again and again, as people milled about near him outside the firehouse Friday, he pounced on their shadows on the pavement.
When the sun went behind the clouds, the shadows disappeared and Bentley continued his happy meet-and-greet, doing back rolls at the feet of the firefighters and leaving his black hairs on their blue uniform shirts.
Around 2 a.m. June 27, the two-alarm fire at 1608 Crane St. caught the occupants of the apartment sleeping. A man at the carwash across the street revved his motorcycle engine under a window until they awoke.
Images captured by Gazette Photographer Peter Barber show big plumes of flame billowing from the second story. The fire and heat spread quickly — Rogers, Carr and Rogers’ sister and 7-year-old daughter started to singe their feet as they ran out.
“By the time we were leaving the house it was already at the front door,” Carr said. “Thank God for adrenaline, because if we didn’t have that, I really don’t think we would have made it.”
After determining all the occupants had escaped safely, firefighters knocked down the flames.
Firefighters Anthony Catalfamo, Chris McCabe and Patrick Sena were inside doing the overhaul, searching for lingering hot spots or other dangers, when Catalfamo spotted the dog cage and what looked like a muzzle poking out from between blankets inside.
Bentley had apparently burrowed under his bedding amid the chaos around him.
It was a chance discovery by a sharp eye — a mostly hidden black nose in the darkest corner of a dark, smoky kitchen.
They dragged the cage away from the drywall falling down on them and toward the staircase, then pulled Bentley out. They carried him down to fresh air, sprayed water on him to cool him off, then gave him oxygen.
Firefighters routinely adapt oxygen masks designed for humans for use in situations like this; it’s not a perfect solution but it can work on pets, and it did with Bentley. He was in a very bad way but he stabilized.
Sgt. Nick Ottati conferred with police on scene and Officers Ross Flood and Aaron Zampella drove Bentley to the Capital District Veterinary Referral Hospital, a 24-hour emergency facility in Latham.
A former landlord reached out to Rogers after the fire and resettled the family in a new home, which she was grateful for.
One can only imagine how grateful Bentley was to go home five days later.
Chris and Mariesa Hughes of the Mr. Mo Project were on hand for the reunion Friday. The Clifton Park-based 501(c)(3) organization is dedicated to helping elderly dogs in need of homes and medical care — incurring $40,000 worth of vet bills in an average month — but they decided to help out the 10-month-old puppy because of his family’s hard luck.
“It was just really important to us that in this situation, when a family loses everything, that they don’t lose their pet as well,” Mariesa Hughes said.
They also donated dozens of kits containing three sizes of pet oxygen masks to the Fire Department. With the expandable fittings on the mouthpiece, they’ll work on everything from small cats to large dogs, whether they’ve got the long snout of a greyhound or the flat, wrinkled visage of a pug.
“These actually create a suction around the muzzle. If you use a human mask, it’s passive air, the air’s going to go everywhere, so the dog’s not getting the oxygen he needs,” Chris Hughes said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the Schenectady Fire Department has more paramedics as a percentage than most other departments in the state, and will be able to make good use of the new gear.
Chief Ray Senecal gave Flood and Zampella credit — rescues and flames are his department’s everyday job, but running a dog ambulance across county lines is above and beyond for police.
Ottati deflected praise back to the firefighters: “The guys behind me did a fantastic job,” he said. “That was quite the fire.”
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation but is not considered suspicious, Assistant Chief Dan Mareno said.