Here owner, Gordon Wiggins, 62, from Sydney, NSW, tells the story in his own words:
‘Come on then, in you get,’ I laughed as my pooch Tina bounded onto the bed.
My Pomeranian, Whiskey, was an independent little thing, so he’d sleep on top of the covers. But Tina preferred to snuggle under the blankets with me. It was just the three of us and I loved them to bits, so I was happy to indulge them!
Then one night we went to bed but when I woke up something was different. My arm was in agony and I didn’t know where I was.
‘Gordon, you’re in intensive care,’ I heard someone say. ‘There’s been a fire.’
Fire? I thought, before I drifted off again. The next thing I remember is seeing my sister, Jenny, by my side. This time, as she explained what happened, the horror of it all sank in.
The power board behind my TV had caught alight and my whole apartment had gone up in flames. Firefighters had found me unconscious in the living room.
‘You must’ve been trying to escape when you collapsed,’ Jenny said.
I was airlifted to the Royal North Shore Hospital, but my beloved Tina had died from smoke inhalation and Whiskey had suffered burns. I couldn’t remember anything and my heart broke for my dogs.
‘Where’s Whiskey?’ I choked.
‘He’s being cared for by one of the fireman, Anthony,’ Jenny explained.
Knowing how traumatised he would’ve been, I just wanted to see him. I still had a long recovery ahead of me though. Burns covered 50 per cent of my body, on my back, neck, arms, legs and the left side of my head.
I’d lost half of one ear and skin grafts had been taken from my legs to help me heal. The nerves in my arm were ripped too, from where the firemen had pulled me to safety.
‘Doctors didn’t think you’d survive,’ Jenny said.
I discovered they were going to turn off my life support, but Jenny and my brother Robert pleaded with them not to. Now I’d been in hospital for more than two months.
‘I’ll say one thing, you’re made of tough stuff,’ Robert said, when I was well enough to move onto a ward.
Two weeks later, I was transferred to a rehabilitation centre. Telling my occupational therapist, Pip, why I was there, I burst into tears.
‘I can’t believe Tina’s gone,’ I wept.
I’d lost all my possessions and one of my babies. As well as the grief, I suffered nightmares where I couldn’t get to Whiskey. Then one day, the fireman, Anthony, arrived, clutching a gorgeous little ball of fur.
Shaking in his arms, Whiskey looked terrified.
‘Come here, silly old dog!’ I beamed.
At that, he wagged his tail and licked my hand.
‘I’m here,’ I soothed.
‘We got to you just in time,’ Anthony told me.
He was an animal lover and said he’d felt so sorry for Whiskey when they’d got him outside. Black from the ash and clinging to life, they’d used an oxygen mask to help him breathe. His medical bills had cost $15,000, but the wonderful vet had waived the fees.
I was so grateful to everyone who’d helped me and my boy. In June this year, six months after the fire, I was finally discharged from hospital.
Anthony arrived at my new unit, with fire crews from across Sydney. They all cheered as I was reunited with Whiskey.
Going inside, my pup jumped up and down excitedly as if to say, I’m home, Dad!
I still think of Tina all the time and Whiskey looks for her around the house. I’m so grateful to the fireys – not only did they save my life but they rescued my best mate, too.
Anthony Crowe says:
As firefighters, we don’t often get to see what happens to people once we finish at a fire scene, so it’s been really rewarding to meet Gordon and follow his recovery. Whiskey’s still got some scarring on his back and a bit of a cough due to the smoke inhalation, but otherwise he’s a normal, happy dog. He’s quite a little character and he has the appetite of about 20 dogs. I even saw him pinching food from our cat!
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 36, 31 August 2017.