New Brighton mechanics sniff out, save dogs from fire

Solomon Gustavo • Mechanics Paul Hetland and Justin Crow, who work at The Garage of New Brighton, followed smoke they saw coming into their shop on Aug. 20 to a burning house. Told there were two dogs trapped inside, they broke down a door and rescued the pets.

courtesy of New Brighton Department of Public Safety • New Brighton Department of Public Safety firefighters put out the Aug. 20 New Brighton house fire that burned near The Garage of New Brighton off of Silver Lake Road and Palmer Drive, from which two dogs were rescued.

The New Brighton Department of Public Safety extinguished a city house fire the morning of Aug. 20, but not before two people who called 911 for help — two mechanics who work at a nearby garage — entered the burning home to save two dogs locked inside. 

The Garage of New Brighton, located on Palmer Drive off Silver Lake Road, was having a Monday morning like most other August days — it was busy in the long work space, the garage doors were up and open and the crisp late-summer air curled through.

The air coming in around 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 20, though, was not clean and clear. To service manager Paul Hetland and technician Justin Crow it seemed like a morning fog, at first. 

But the fog didn’t dissipate, and as the air in the garage continued to thicken, Hetland said it hit them both. 

“That’s smoke,” he said they both thought out loud. 

Like a trusty technician — or good neighbors — Crow and Hetland headed out to see where the smoke was coming from. They followed it, approaching a house as Crow began dialing authorities. 

A neighbor standing in front of the smokey house saw the two coming and told them there were two dogs inside. 

Though “the house was smoldering” and it was obvious the house “was going to go up in no time,” said Crow, the smoke was not so bad that two wouldn’t try to do something to help.

Crow and Hetland walked up to the front door, looked through a window and saw a French bulldog.

“He was super friendly, just sitting there, like, ‘What are you guys doing here?’” said Crow.

Crow said they saw a construction worker and asked him if he had any tools on him — “a hammer or something” — to try to get the door open. 

Coming up empty-handed, Hetland said he opened the screen door to kick the front door down. After a second kick, the door flew open. “It was just like in the movies,” said Crow. 

Inside the house it was smokey, but not overwhelming. “The smoke detectors weren’t  going off,” said Crow. 

The French bulldog ran out. Crow said if it weren’t for the neighbor telling them about two dogs, they would have left. 

Though it wasn’t so smokey, the two were still weary of entering an actively burning house. They stood in the front door clapping and yelling, trying to get the attention of that alleged second dog. 

Crow and Hetland said they started slowly creeping into the house when they heard barking coming from the kitchen. As they got closer to the noise, Hetland said windows started to break and crack from the heat and pressure of the fire. 

The dog, which the owners had only gotten two weeks before, was locked up in a kennel.

Crow said he grabbed the cage. “I wasn’t gonna sit there trying to figure out how to get the kennel open,” he said. The two ran out the front door with the second dog.

By then cops and firefighters were arriving. A little group of neighbors outside had grabbed the first dog to keep it from running off, and the two canine rescuers left the kenneled dog with the neighbors. 

A day later back at the shop, back to a normal day with the garage doors open and letting in fresh, warm air, the two were very relieved that they were able to save the dogs — and return to a routine day. 


— Solomon Gustavo

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