A neighbor who was an off-duty police officer helped put out a porch fire with a garden hose in North Lynbrook Monday, saving several pets inside, authorities said.
Joseph Cosenza, 53, said he smelled the smoke, hopped the fence onto an Edward Street home and thrust open his neighbor’s door. No one replied to his calls, but he saw a cat run up the stairs, and two barking and growling dogs came right up to the door, just feet from the flames.
The dogs resisted his “Let’s go” entreaties and attempts to pull them out as the flames took hold, he said.
“They were reticent to exit past the fire,” said Cosenza, a 22-year veteran of the Lynbrook police force. “At one point, the cinders did fall on my head.”
He said he shut the door and found a garden hose at the side of the house that wasn’t working, then found a working one.
“First I threw the flaming chaise longue off the porch because that’s where most of the fire was coming from,” Cosenza said. “Then I grabbed the hose and in less than five minutes, the flames had died down.”
Cosenza’s actions kept the fire in check until firefighters arrived shortly after the flames started about 3:30 p.m., said James Hickman, supervisor of investigations at the Nassau County fire marshal’s office.
“He kept the dogs and cats safe in the house,” Hickman said.
Inside were six family pets — all shelter rescues — and two cats the belong to a friend who’s on vacation, said Greg Herbst, who “flew home” after his mother alerted him to the fire.
“Everyone’s all right,” he said, but the animals were “freaked out” and hiding when the family was allowed back in.
Photos from the scene show first responders caring for a tabby and what appears to be a black boxer.
Hickman said the fire was accidental, caused by a lit cigarette left on the porch.
Malverne Fire Department spokesman David Gildea said the porch was destroyed by the blaze, which was knocked out by about 50 firefighters, who also came from Lynbrook, Rockville Centre and Franklin Square.
Herbst, reached by phone Monday night as dogs barked in the background, said he could not talk much because he was busy with the insurance adjusters.
He said the off-duty officer took his two dogs out the back door and kept them safe as firefighters went into the house, but the cats were scared, and one, PJ, was the last to be found, the pet owner said.
“PJ was hiding in the attic,” Herbst said. “He was behind a bunch of boxes and he was freaked out, trying to get away from me as soon as I picked him up. He just wanted to be left alone.”
Cosenza, who said he and his wife have five cats, does not consider himself a hero: “I was just being a good neighbor.”