INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Deputies and firefighters braced billowing black smoke and intense heat as they teamed up to save three dogs and two cats from a house fire Monday.
“I’m proud of the (deputies) for not hesitating. They jumped in and did what they had to do,” said Indian River County sheriff’s Maj. Milo Thornton, who was also on scene. “Fire rescue was full speed in getting the fire under control. It was outstanding teamwork.”
The owner of the animals was not home when the fire broke out, officials said. The fire left the single-family residence uninhabitable from heavy smoke.
The roof also had structural damage, Thornton said.
Ed Zorn said he was driving after picking up supplies from Home Depot when he saw black smoke pouring from the residence. The blaze ignited about 11:30 a.m. Monday in the 1300 block of 24th Avenue.
“I saw nothing but black smoke billowing from the home,” said Zorn, 54, Vero Beach. “The fire happened in the back of the home. The (back) was totally destroyed.”
Indian River County deputies arrived and saw the home fully engulfed in flames. Deputies saw two vehicles in the driveway and thought residents might still be inside, Thornton said.
Deputy Michael Dilks said he kicked in the door three times, but couldn’t get it to open. Zorn then grabbed a sledgehammer from his truck and knocked the deadbolt loose.
When the door flung open, one of the dogs ran out of the home, Thornton said. Dilks said he crawled about 10 feet inside on the living room floor in the home to find the other two dogs and two cats.
“I think about the safety of our personnel,” Thornton said. “We don’t have the same uniform or breathing apparatuses as firemen.”
Thornton, also on the floor and halfway in the doorway, grabbed the back of Dilks’ legs – a safety technique done in case Dilks went unconscious from the heavy, black smoke. Dilks said he looked through the smoke and saw a white cat that was unresponsive and could hear barks from other dogs.
“I called toward them,” Dilks said. “The smoke and heat were overwhelming. I couldn’t see or breathe. My eyes and lungs were burning.”
When the heat became too intense, Thornton pulled Dilks out of the home. Deputies noted that there were several propane tanks on the back porch.
“We were worried the place could explode,” Dilks said. When Indian River County firefighters arrived, Dilks advised them where the animals were located in the home.
Dilks said he grabbed the second dog when it ran to the doorway and carried it out of the home. One of the cats ran out of the house, but then continued into the woods, Thornton said.
It was unclear if the cat was found.
“Dilks was a stand-up deputy,” Zorn said. “He jumped right in.”
Firefighters rescued the second cat, which had a serious burn to its tail, and handed it to deputies. First responders rescued the third dog after they found it hiding in the garage.
“I’m an animal person. It would be devastating to hear that dogs died in a fire because they couldn’t get out,” Zorn said. “I’m just glad the animals are okay.”
Other deputies walked around the outside of the home to make sure there were no other animals or people still stuck inside.
Fire rescue extinguished the blaze in about 15 minutes, authorities said. The three dogs and cat were taken to a veterinarian for treatment, officials said.
“It was a great team effort by the sheriff’s office and fire rescue,” Thornton said. “I saw no hesitation in them. Fire rescue jumped right in and didn’t skip a beat.”
Red Cross South Florida Region was not contacted for assistance, Executive Director Jennifer Durrant said. It was unclear if the resident was staying with family.
The state fire marshal will investigate the cause of the blaze.
Photos provided by Indian River County Sheriff’s Office