Barking Dogs Alert Derry Homeowner to Garage Fire

Debbi Cox is used to the barking of the two dogs that share her home. They’re very sociable, she says, and often alert the family to passers-by.

Their bark Thursday, Aug. 20, was different and may have saved the Cox family’s lives.

Bandit, a blue heeler border collie owned by Cox’s daughter Courtney and Cox’s own Bailey, a bloodhound/foxhound/boxer mix, are credited, along with a working smoke detector, with saving the family home after a garage fire that day. The two dogs’ barking alerted Cox that something wasn’t quite right, and kept the fire confined to the garage.

Cox works two jobs from her home office. She is state coordinator for New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom and Administrative Assistant for the state Association of Career and Technical Education Administrators. When Bandit and Bailey started barking, she at first thought they had spotted a pedestrian.

But they weren’t looking out the window, and Cox finally noted the anxiety in their barks. It was, she said, “Incessant.”

“Bandit was very protective, and he wouldn’t leave my side,” she recalled. “I finally got up to investigate.”

As Cox left the computer the smoke detector went off. “I was walking in the direction of the garage, through the kitchen,” she said. “The garage door has glass at the top. All I could see was flame.”

“That changed my perspective, and I began to move faster,” Cox said. “I grabbed the dogs, grabbed my purse, and called 9-1-1 as I was going out the door.”

The Derry Fire Department responded.

Battalion Chief Jack Webb wrote in a press release that the first responders were Truck 1, Engines 2 and 3, Medic 1 and Car 1. Due to information from the caller, Car 1 immediately requested mutual aid in the form of a tanker and engine. Truck 1 responded in place of Engine 1, which was out of service due to scheduled maintenance.

Upon arrival, Webb wrote, Car 1 observed a light haze of smoke from the garage. The garage windows were fully smoke-stained, and the garage door inside the house was hot. The call was upgraded to a “Working Fire.”

Crews deployed hose lines to the interior and the rear of the house. Additional crews forced open the garage doors. A ventilation-limited (smoldering) fire was found in the rear of the garage and it briefly flared up and was quickly extinguished by the interior crew.

Smoke and heat damage was limited to the garage and garage contents, with moderate smoke damage to a parked car. Minor smoke damage to the residence was limited by early ventilation.

There were no injuries to civilians, firefighters or the dogs.

After metering for carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide and ventilating, the occupants were able to safely re-occupy the house, Webb wrote. The garage will require extensive cleaning and some remodeling.

Mutual aid to the scene was provided by Windham and Chester, while Londonderry, Manchester and Salem provided station coverage. 

Webb wrote, “This fire was an example of the importance of building codes, fire codes, and smoke detectors. The combination of double layers of sheet rock and a fire-rated door that separated the garage from the house greatly limited the spread of the fire and contained the fire and smoke to the garage.”

In a phone interview Friday, Webb said the response time for the fire crews was 10 minutes. “It was in District 4, the ‘tail end’ of the district,’ he said. Though the Fire Department sustained budget cuts after the May 19 Town Council vote, Webb said this incident was “not seriously affected” by the cuts.

After an investigation by the Derry Fire Prevention Bureau, Webb reported that the nature of the fire was accidental in origin. It started in the garage and was the result of an electrical malfunctioning, he said.

Webb added that the smoke detectors played their part in allowing the occupant to become aware of the fire and notify the Fire Department.

But Cox will always give the credit to the two canines.

The family had never before had a fire, she said. “It’s something we always tried to be cautious about. When it was happening, all the speeches played back in my mind, such as not grabbing things on the way out,” she said. The only things she took were the pets and the purse.

And because of the pets, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Cox said, “I just think of the things that were in that garage – paint cans, wood pellets.” With these combustible items, she said, “A couple more minutes and we could have lost the house.

“Everything,” Cox said, “played in our favor.”

The family has lived in the Mill Road home for 30 years. In addition to Cox and her daughter, she has a son, Ryan, and a husband, Sean.

Bailey and Bandit received a lot of attention, including an appearance on a local television news show, and, Cox laughed, “It’s going to their heads.” On Saturday, she said, they were both “kind of lethargic – I think it’s catching up with them.”