Firefighters rescue man, four ‘best friends’

Huntington firefighters Adam Close (left) and Mike Burnworth didn’t stop at rescuing Travis Fierstos, who was trapped on a porch roof during a fire. They also rescued the man’s four dogs. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Two Huntington firefighters can add the title of "dog rescuer" to their resumés.

Oh, yeah, they also rescued a human.

"We were just doing what we were trained to do," says Firefighter Mike Burnworth.

The drama began on Saturday, Feb. 22, about 4:30 a.m. when an alarm came in for a house fire in the 1300 block of East State Street. Firefighters from both the Condit Street and Etna Avenue stations responded; the Condit Street truck got there first.

"We noticed a man up on the roof with a flashlight and a couple of dogs," says Assistant Chief Tony Hensel. Smoke was billowing out the windows.

The Condit Street crew went to work on the fire, and the Etna Avenue truck - with Firefighter Adam Close and Burnworth aboard - rolled up. The job of rescuing the man and his dogs fell to Close and Burnworth.

"We were the second truck on the scene, and that was the job that needed to be done," Close says. "We were the rescue and vent crew."

The pair set up a ladder and helped the home's lone occupant, Travis Fierstos, climb down to a waiting ambulance. Fierstos, who had inhaled a lot of smoke, was taken to St. Joseph Regional Burn Center, in Fort Wayne.

Fierstos was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, Lt. Chris Sunderman says, and the fire in a downstairs living area blocked the stairway. Fierstos broke out a bedroom window to get to the porch roof and apparently went back inside to try to rescue the dogs - four Jack Russells.
"We have no idea how many times he went back into the house for the dogs," Hensel says.

Once Fierstos was safely in the ambulance, Close and Burnworth turned their attention to the dogs.

"He cared a lot about those dogs," Close says.

One dog was found on the ground outside the house; Burnworth got the two dogs on the roof and handed them down to Close.

The dogs were scared, biting and scratching, Burnworth says; one dog used its teeth to clamp onto a firefighter's glove for the ride down.

"You can't blame them," Close says of the dogs. "There were lights and sirens and guys with masks on."

The fourth dog was found inside the house and was brought out uninjured. All four dogs were turned over to Huntington animal control officers for safekeeping.

Hensel says the cause of the fire hasn't been determined, but that it caused extensive damage to the downstairs living room, with smoke damage throughout the house. It took firefighters only about 15 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

A phone number for Fierstos could not be located.