Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007

Mailman saves Kensington house – and dog – from fire

Calls 911 after family pet turns on a burner while eating a plate of brownies

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
U.S. Postal carrier David Young meets Johnna Story on his Tuesday delivery. Young saved the Story home from catching fire by calling 911 when he smelled smoke at the front door and heard a smoke detector. Officials believe the fire started when the Story dog, Cyrus, turned on a gas burner while eating a plate of brownies atop the stove.
A 12-year-old lab mix from Kensington is one lucky dog.

Thanks to the quick thinking — and actions — of U.S. Postal carrier David Young, Cyrus and his owners’ Dunnel Lane home were saved Thursday from near destruction.

Cyrus could not resist the temptation of freshly baked brownies, according to what Young, Cyrus’ owners Mark and Johnna Story and fire officials can piece together.

Left home alone, he leapt onto the stovetop where the brownies were sitting, and sparked an unlikely chain of events.

Cyrus somehow managed to turn on the burners of the gas stove, which ignited the wax paper covering the metal tray of brownies.

‘‘They were on the back burner,” Mark Story explained on Monday. ‘‘I remember because I put them there that morning because [Cyrus is] a jumper, and thinking there’s absolutely no way he could get at these.”

But get at them he did.

The smoke detector sounded as smoke built up in the house — just in time for Young’s daily delivery route at the Storys’ home.

Young first smelled smoke, then he heard the alarm. That’s when he pounded on the door, but no one responded. The alarm continued to sound and Young said he could see smoke thickening through a window.

Fearing someone could be asleep or unconscious inside the single-family home, he called 911.

‘‘As a homeowner myself, I would definitely like someone to do the same for me,” Young said Saturday morning. ‘‘I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do to call 911.”

Kensington career firefighter Capt. Mark Bird said the situation could have been much worse if not for Young’s phone call. Firefighters arrived before the flames spread to the kitchen cabinets and walls.

Firefighters determined the origin of the fire by the charred metal tray that held the brownies. The fire began in the morning, before Young arrived with mail around 11 a.m.

‘‘It was just one of those interesting calls,” Bird said.

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Kelley said the house was saved because of Young’s quick thinking.

‘‘Clearly had the postman not done what he did, the next call would have been for smoke billowing out the windows and the house could’ve been destroyed,” he said.

The home received minor smoke damage, smelled like smoke and a small windowpane was broken so the firefighters could enter the house.

Story said the smell was gone in a few days.

He is thankful for Young’s quick reaction.

‘‘The [Kensington] fire chief said that if Young hadn’t acted quickly, my house could’ve ended up in flames,” he said.

Once inside the home, Kensington firefighters found a list of contact numbers on the refrigerator and called Johnna Story at her Washington, D.C., law firm. Both she and her husband were working at their respective law firms, and their two children were in day care Thursday afternoon.

Kensington Postmaster Joe Messett said Young’s reaction was not out of character. Kensington mail carriers used to participate in a program where they were ‘‘looking out for anything that wasn’t normal in the neighborhood.” However, the post office doesn’t run the program currently.

‘‘It must’ve been real tough to hear the alarm, but I think he was just being cautious and called 911,” Messett said.

But the long-time mail carrier said he was just acting on instinct.

Young, 49, has delivered mail in Kensington for 18 years.

‘‘I love it,” he said. ‘‘I love coming to work and doing my job. I enjoy being outside and meeting all the people. ...Plus there’s all the exercise from walking.”

The Story family moved from Kensington Heights onto Dunnel Lane last fall, and Young was acquainted with the family of four.

Mark Story said he was eternally grateful for Young’s quick action. If firefighters weren’t alerted in time, Story feared his home would have been destroyed.

‘‘All credit goes to David Young for this, I was a little angry at my dog, though,” he said.

While firefighters were able to put out the flame, Story said that Cyrus wasn’t done causing trouble.

The 12-year-old dog ran outside when firefighters entered the house. Bird said the ice kept Cyrus from going far, and he was brought back inside when the smoke cleared.

But when Story arrived home, Cyrus was still outside and found the brownies again.

‘‘The fire department had taken the charred piece of metal outside, and well, Cyrus found it and was eating away at it,” Story said. ‘‘Not to make light of the serious situation, but he really wanted those brownies.”