Quick action and teamwork saves Shelter dogs during fire

by Bob Gordon, FOTAS Director of Communications

Finally, the skies were quiet again. The severe storm that caused the Shelter’s power to go out several times, had moved on. Stranded adopters who didn’t want to leave with their adopted pets during the torrential rains, headed for their cars. FOTAS volunteers began cleaning the kitten condos while staff finished paperwork. Everyone was a bit relieved that the rush of activity was over and the dangerous storm had left the area. It was 4:20 on Wednesday, less than an hour until closing time.

“Fire!” somebody called out. “We have a fire in adoption!” It was Veterinarian Technician Judith Gulden-Schmitt. Judith had been chatting with Administrative Assistant Liz Kornaus when she glanced over at the adoption wing and saw flames showing through the door of one of kennels. Liz immediately called 911 and Judith alerted her fellow Vet Techs, Betty Milne-Erikson and Lynn Irilli, who grabbed leashes to move the dogs out of the burning adoption wing. At the same time, Kennel Custodians Christin and Summer Foster jumped into action and moved dogs from the smoke-filled adoption pod to the intake wing located on the other side of the building. FOTAS Volunteers Pat Ludwig, Paul Tallent and Lannie Brancato also grabbed leashes and began moving dogs to safety.

Paul and I moved two of the dogs, Flash and Gracie, to the main building, putting them in the employee break room temporarily. The goal was to get the dogs out before they were harmed by the fire either directly or through smoke inhalation. We rushed back out to evacuate more dogs. One of the dog beds was on fire along with the ceiling tiles but luckily it wasn’t spreading as fast as we feared. Betty helped me leash Phoebe and I leashed Rowdy, then took them into the main building. Behind me was Animal Control Officer James Fisher with another dog. He said we could put all three dogs in his office.

When we got back outside, we could already hear the sirens of the fire and rescue trucks, and all the dogs were out of the adoption wing and safe from harm. Shelter Manager Bobby Arthurs managed to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher as the dogs were evacuated. Director of County Code Enforcement Paige Bayne arrived at the scene right away and provided direction and support. County Administrator Clay Killian, Assistant Administrator Ashley Jacobs, and County Council Chairman Andrew Siders were also on hand. Many other County leaders and community members responded to the emergency, either by coming to the Shelter or calling to see how they could help.

“Everyone’s response time was very quick,” Bobby said. “It was a solid team effort and wonderful to see everyone get the dogs out so fast. Aiken Public Safety got here right away and the County’s Buildings & Grounds folks got our power back on and worked to get the air conditioning up and running again in the adoption wing.”

The Shelter’s Veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Levy, rushed to the scene to examine the dogs. She was joined by Dr. Wells, Dr. Groover and Dr. Timmerman.

Some dogs were doubled up in the kennels of the intake wing since they had to be moved from the adoption wing. The Shelter is in urgent need of dog walkers and foster homes, and any donations would be appreciated! Thankfully, all the dogs are okay.

Their lives are in our hands.

Aiken Public Safety clears the smoke and assesses fire damage in the first pod of the Shelter’s adoption wing.
Aiken Public Safety clears the smoke and assesses fire damage in the first pod of the Shelter’s adoption wing.



PHOEBE & ROWDY: Corgi mix & Retriever mix, female & male, 3 and 1 years old, bonded pair needs to be adopted together, $70 for both
POLAR BEAR: Domestic Shorthair cat, male, 3 years old, white, 8 pounds - $10
POLAR BEAR: Domestic Shorthair cat, male, 3 years old, white, 8 pounds – $10