Quick thinking and steady nerves helped West Shore RCMP Cst. Scott Rothermel save a dog from a burning building believed to have been set on fire deliberately.
Rothermel and the Colwood Fire Department responded to the fire in the 600 block of Kelly Road shortly after 2 a.m. Friday morning. A man had called 911, saying only “Fire” before the call was disconnected.
RCMP dispatchers traced the call and found an address on Kelly Road.
Rothermel was the first to arrive a the scene and saw flames coming off a truck and the right side of the house. The vehicle was so engulfed in flames it was barely recognizable, he said, noting the fire was spreading up the side of the house.
Neighbours told him there were two dogs trapped inside.
Rothermel asked if there were any people still in the building and the neighbours told him that they weren’t sure.
“You have about a second to decide,” said Rothermel.
Choosing the side of the house furthest away from the flames, Rothermel smashed out the remains of a window that had already been broken and entered into the living room.
One of the dogs, a pit bull, came to Rothermel, who then opened the front door from the inside and shoved the dog outside. He searched the rest of the house but didn’t find any other dogs or people. The smoke began to get heavier so Rothermel left the house.
“I’m not a hero, I’m just the guy that arrived first and made a decision,” Rothermel said to media later that day. “Actually the heroes are the fire department. There’s still a house standing and it could have got a lot worse.”
After the fire department put out the fire they found another dog, a bulldog named Tank, hidden inside the house, scared but otherwise healthy.
“With a few whistles and a few callouts he came out from under some boxes and some debris,” said Colwood fire chief Russ Cameron. “Certainly, the fire department never advocates anyone going inside a burning building. I think (Rothermel) made a calculated assessment … and he made a calculated decision and he went in and I think he did a great job.”
In his past, Rothermel has worked fighting forest fires, so he does have some fire training, which he said helped him make his decision to enter the house.
Rothermel received some cuts while climbing through the broken window and was given medical attention for minor smoke inhalation. Rothermel said he had a sore throat but otherwise felt fine.
A lighter moment came, Rothermel said, when a fellow officer approached him with a serious expression saying he had one question for Rothermel. The officer then began to sing “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
RCMP are now treating the fire as suspicious and the Colwood Fire Department believe it was deliberately set. Cameron said they now think the fire started in the truck next to the house.
The fire department considered the blaze suspicious based on the fact that no obvious cause is known and that the two young men who live at the home were not there when the fire department arrived.