Michael St. Martin of Huntington kicks down door to save dogs from burning house

Last modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014
HUNTINGTON — Michael St. Martin is one of those guys who just loves dogs.

“They give you unconditional love. They’re really man’s best friend,” he said. He said his 6-year-old yellow Labrador, Jake, has his heart.

So when he saw a panic-stricken dog trapped inside a burning house in a rural town in the Berkshires Jan. 17, he did what he hopes anyone would do for his dog.

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“I kicked in the door,” he said.

St. Martin, 53, who recently moved to Huntington from Northampton, is credited with rescuing two dogs from the inferno that destroyed the Washington home of Anne Hynes and Mitchell Pratt. The couple was not home at the time of the fire, which started when heat getting through cracks in the cinder block chimney caused the wall to burn. Their two cats perished.

In a phone interview Thursday, Hynes was emotional as she recounted the moment she realized both dogs had survived, as well as her telephone call to thank the stranger who freed them.

“I don’t know how you can even begin to thank someone for that,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. Having both my dogs, and they have each other, it’s made a world of difference.”

Right place, right time

St. Martin travels a lot in the area for his work with Commercial Tire of West Springfield. On Jan. 17 at about 2:45 p.m., he was on the phone with a client while driving by 1013 South Washington State Road when he noticed smoke billowing out of the home’s chimney.

“When I hung up the phone I said, ‘I gotta to go back and check that. That was too much smoke for my liking,’” he said.

When he pulled into the driveway, he noticed the far side of the house where he saw flames shooting out of the chimney’s base and top and from the roof near it. He tried opening two doors to see if anyone was inside, but both were locked. He peered in through a window, and knew he had to do something.

“Smoke had completely filled the house. You couldn’t see in. It was like there was a satin curtain hanging over the door,” he said. “Then I looked down and saw a dog’s nose pressed against the glass.”

He kicked the door jam about seven times, worrying that breaking the glass might injure the dog, and the door swung open.

“The dog ran out and I ran in screaming,” he said. “I was flying on adrenaline.”

St. Martin was yelling to see if anyone was inside and needed help getting out, but he said it was so hot and smoky in the house that he could only stay inside for about 15 seconds and then would have to go outside to catch his breath.

He did this several times and at some point the other dog, Ava, must have run out. St. Martin said he never saw her or the cats.

St. Martin called 911 and then looked around for Otis, who did not look well when he ran out of the house. “He was dazed and running in circles. It took him a while to get his breath back,” he said. When he did, St. Martin caught him running in traffic and tied him to a tree at the edge of the yard.

Firefighters from several communities arrived and started battling the blaze. St. Martin said he helped them roll out the hoses, gave his contact information to one EMT, and then headed home without ever meeting the homeowners.

Silver lining

Hynes was at work at Oldcastle Stone Products in Lee when the fire broke out, and Pratt, her fiance, was at a family member’s house. Hynes said her phone was turned off but she eventually received a voicemail from a neighbor about the fire.

She jumped in her car and called her neighbor. “I kept asking about the animals, but she wouldn’t say. She kept saying, ‘It’s just really bad,’” Hynes said. “So the whole drive there, I thought they were all dead.”

When she arrived, a firefighter tried to reassure her, saying they had the dog thanks to a good Samaritan who had kicked in the door. “I said, ‘One dog? There are two dogs,’” she said, but no one had seen Ava. “An hour or two later, Ava came running out of the woods barking.”

The dogs are both 2-year-old mutts the couple adopted. Hynes said the dogs are very close, and she was heartbroken during the few hours she thought only Otis had survived.

“Seeing Otis out there, I thought, ‘How will he go on without her?’” Hynes said. “I prayed for her to come, and then she did. My prayers were answered.”

She got St. Martin’s phone number from the fire marshal and called him a few days later to tearfully thank him. She said he was happy to hear about Ava escaping the house, because he never saw her.

Hynes and Pratt are staying at a home owned by Hynes’ sister in Pittsfield, but are looking for a place to rent. They plan to rebuild.

She said that while they miss their cats and their home was considered a total loss, they are focusing on how lucky they are to have Otis and Ava as they pick up the pieces.

“It feels as though we didn’t lose anything, because we have them,” she said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.