A veterinary technician happened to be outside the home, and helped administer oxygen to the dog using the fire department's dog mask, said Fire Chief Michael Newbury.
"I think we had an angel looking over us because we were able to get this guy out," said Lt. Bill Cross about Wednesday's fire. "It was terribly hot and the smoke was ceiling to floor. It was a brick building with three stories and it held the heat like a brick oven. It was really hot. We got lucky."
A scan of the apartment with a thermal imaging camera showed no one was in the home, but Cross heard the man, who was unconscious but breathing, cough about 15 to 20 feet from where he was standing in a smoke-filled hallway.
Cross dragged the man from the heat of the kitchen and others helped by grabbing his legs and armpits and dragging him into the hall. Others took him from the hallway outside, and the first group returned to the apartment, said Fire Chief Michael Newbury.
The man was taken to Mass General Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and initially listed in critical condition, but now he is expected to survive, he said.
"Every single second counts," said Cross. "If we were in there five more minutes, I don't think we'd be hearing that he would pull through."
Cross, the union president of Saugus Firefighters Local #1003, has been advocating for a third fire station to cover the west side of town with easy access to Route 1 North and South for decades. It’s a fight he said dates back to the early 1970s under former Fire Chief Thomas Nolan, but is even more crucial today with the mixed-use developments planned for Route 1.
In 2003, Cross sponsored three Town Meeting articles in an effort to bring the new station to fruition. A debt exclusion for a new ladder truck and a second debt exclusion for a new, $500,000 firehouse both passed. A third article for a Proposition 2½ override to fund the hiring of 12 new firefighters failed.
"I think everyone knows we need it, it's just a question of coming up with a plan to get it done," said Cross. "Nobody thinks a fire is going to happen. You don't think you need a fire department until you need it. We had a great crew working that night and we were lucky it came in around 11 (p.m.) when there wasn't as much traffic."
Another issue, said Newbury, is that the town had two cooking fires within five days.
"We've had two cooking fires in a row and both times the individuals were damaged," said Newbury. "It's continuously carelessness with smoking, electricity, and cooking in the kitchen that are three of the top causes of fire in the country."
Newbury is asking residents to be more careful while cooking and to call for help before a kitchen fire is out of hand. Many people think that if the fire is small, they can contain it, but it can quickly grow in size, he said.
"At the end of the day, when you sign up for this job, going into a building and pulling people out is the definition of what we signed up to do and it doesn't happen very often," said Newbury. "I'm very proud of my guys. We've had three fires in a short period of time and they have been going above and beyond."