As they were driving down Neroly Road on their way to log some service hours at Bridge Marina Yacht Club, the two students spotted smoke coming from a nearby residence.
“We were on our way (to Bridge Marina) when my friend (Kegle) noticed smoke that looked like more than just a fireplace coming out of the house,” said Owen. “So we pulled in and he called 911. After that, the adrenaline just kicked in.”
Owen and Kegle arrived at the home of Helen and Robert Dominguez – who were not home at the time – in the 5200 block of Neroly Road at around 4 p.m. As neighbors yelled to the boys that there were three dogs inside the house (two pit bulls and a herding dog), Kegle kicked down the back door of the house and ran inside with Owen.
“I didn’t really think about it,” said Kegle. “I just saw the smoke and kicked it (the door) in.”
Once inside, the knee-high smoke made it difficult for the boy’s to navigate through the house. “There was a lot of smoke, and once we got inside we found two of the dogs passed out – I thought one of them was dead,” said Owen. “They were stiff and unresponsive. Around that time, a neighbor came in and found the third dog and carried it out.”
That neighbor was Christiene Mecham, owner of the adjacent property. “I grabbed the puppy and started giving it mouth-to-mouth,” she said. “I was thumping and pumping and crying; it was crazy.”
Firefighters arrived on the scene about 20 minutes later. “Once we came outside, the fire department was there and they took over,” said Owen. “They got the dogs to open their eyes and you could see smoke coming out of their (the dogs) mouths. It was kind of scary.”
One of the firefighters hooked up the puppy to some oxygen, and the other dog, also on oxygen, was driven by Kegle and Owen to a veterinarian’s office, where he was later released to the Dominquez family.
The two younger dogs have since recovered, but the older pit bull is still suffering from smoke inhalation in conjunction with prior medical problems.
“When we arrived at the house there were two dogs there that were being assisted by bystanders,” said Contra Costa Fire Battalion Chief Brian Helmick. “I wouldn’t say the dogs were in full respitory arrest, but they did have labored breathing.”
According to Helmick, the accidental fire appears to have started in the kitchen, but as of press time, the cause was undetermined. In the meantime, the Dominguezes – mother, father and two children – are living with relatives until their insurance company can secure them a rental home. Damage to the house is currently estimated at $175,000 and repairs are expected to take from three to six months.
Considering how the story might have ended, the family remains upbeat, optimistic and grateful. “Oh yes, it could have been worse; another half hour and we would have been at home,” said Robert. “We are so grateful to the boys and neighbors who helped us. They were very brave.”
Helmick agreed that the combined efforts of all involved allowed for the happy ending. “I applaud them (the neighbors) for taking the efforts to remove the animals from the house. It was a real community collaborative effort and the whole thing had a positive result. It was fortunate that the family and animals were all OK.”
Owen and Kegle never did perform their community service duties at the yacht club that day, but thanks to neighbors who notified the school of the student’s heroics, both teens will receive full credit for the remainder of their community service hours.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Kegle. “I’m glad it all worked out. It was kind of crazy, but I’d definitely do it all again.”
A fund for the Dominguez family is expected to be established within the next few weeks. For information or to make a donation, contact Christiene Mecham at 925-753-1056.