Unsung hero: Firefighters rush to save dogs from burning Wilmington apartment

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 7:02 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s a scenario straight out of a nightmare: your home ablaze with your pets trapped inside. However, it was a reality for one resident of South Front Apartments.

Wilmington Fire Department Captain Jonathan Ellis remembers when they first arrived, the house was so filled with black smoke they couldn’t see a thing. It took two searches to find the two dogs inside the apartment.

“I remember being in the kitchen going, ‘if I was a dog where would I go?’” said Ellis. “It was a good save. We weren’t in there too long when we found them, so we got them out pretty quick, and they were [on] the couch away from the door and they were together.”

Whiskey and Winston were suffering from smoke inhalation, and unconscious when firefighters rescued them from the South Front Street fire. Dozens of people lined the street, watching as crews resuscitated the beloved pets.

“I handed the puppy over to those other guys and they went to work. I mean they did a fantastic job. We have equipment just for dogs that go on their nose for oxygen, and within 20 minutes we’re giving them water and they were good to go,” added Ellis.

Everyone knows firefighters pull humans from burning buildings, but Captain Ellis estimates they save more pets than people.

Between 50 and 70 percent of their calls involve animals, which is why they always carry special equipment to help pets struggling with smoke inhalation.

“All life is precious to us,” said Ellis. “To reunite someone with the dogs after an incident like that — it was very touching. I think all the guys and the neighbors were happy with that ending.”

“No words will ever be enough in my opinion for those firefighters. I’m just beyond grateful,” said the dog’s owner, Hailee Welker, through tears. ”I don’t know if my dogs would have survived; they were already unconscious and seizing when the fire department got there so if they would have went any longer they wouldn’t have made it.”

Welker lost a lot of possessions in the fire, but walked away with her family, thanks to the heroes in helmets, selflessly serving the people and pets of the Port City.

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