Dog dies in Westminster fire, despite retired Baltimore firefighter's rescue attempt

A retired Baltimore firefighter stormed a burning house in Westminster on Friday morning in an attempt to rescue a dog trapped inside.

Retired Baltimore city firefighter Mike Watson was passing by in his truck when he saw the smoke at 500 North Gorsuch Road. Watson’s first instinct was to check for people inside — then he heard barking.

With no protective equipment, Watson, who retired from firefighting 30 years ago, said he entered the house through an unlocked basement door, climbed the stairs and called out to the dog. But it never came. And heavy smoke made it impossible for Watson to search.

“I couldn’t find him,” Watson said.

Despite the efforts of Watson and others, the dog, Fred, did not survive the fire.

Fred, a Jack Russell Terrier and coonhound mix, would have been 5 years old on July 4, his owner Babette Leister said.

Arborists Joe Burley of Hampstead and Jason Blair of Westminster spotted the flames as they were driving to work.

Burley called 911 and helped kick down the front door, but the smoke prevented them from entering.

“We heard the dog barking,” Burley said. “There was no getting in.”

Burley said he used a nearby garden hose to spray the flames through a broken front window.

Firefighters retrieved the dog from inside the house and performed chest compressions on the front lawn for several minutes. Retired nurse Nicole Gasper, who lives with Watson on Aspen Drive, was by the dog’s side as he fought to breathe.

“They did attempt to revive the dog,” Westminster fire company Lt. Nick Krionderis said. “Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.”

Fred’s body was moved to the base of a tree in the front yard. Gasper gently pet the dog’s head and placed a red sweatshirt over him. Moments later, a white blanket covered him, too.

Leister arrived with her husband Richard after Fred died. They were at the Westminster Moose Lodge when the fire broke out at about 11:20 a.m.

“He was the best dog we ever had,” she said.

Fred was the kind of dog who would “jump up in bed, give you a kiss,” and “he was always right by your feet,” she said.

The Leisters lived in their home for 51 years, she said. The fire was contained to one room, Krionderis said.

“It looks like it might have been used as an office,” Krionderis said.

He expects the house could be repaired, but for now the couple plans to stay with family elsewhere.

Firefighters did not yet know how the fire started, Krionderis said, and the incident will be investigated by the state fire marshal. About 25 firefighters responded to the blaze and put it out within about 15 minutes, Krionderis said.

No humans were injured in the fire, according to Krionderis.

Responding fire companies included those of Hampstead, Manchester, New Windsor, Reese, Pleasant Valley, Westminster and Upperco in Baltimore County, Krionderis said.

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