The calls over the police airwaves alerted of "a working fire" on Oak Street in Central Islip — with "children inside," said Suffolk County police Officer Sergio Rivera.
"That added urgency," to his response, Rivera told Newsday Friday night.
He and a colleague, Officer James Galanos, were first on scene to the smoky two-story home shortly after 3 p.m. Friday.
They were greeted by two boys, brothers, ages 11 and 13, who had just exited the front door, police said. The children made it out of the home, but their agony was immediately apparent, Rivera said.
The boys were "in hysterics and crying" and screaming, "My dog and my cat are still in there," Rivera recalled.
The brothers' pets were a 2-year-old long-haired male Chihuahua named JJ, and 2-year-old male tabby cat named Tiger, police said.
The officers directed the boys to stay across the street and then made a "split-second decision" to go looking for the family pets, Rivera said.
"The kids said the dog was in a cage in the front, by the living room. We went in low, so the smoke was above us. Because of the smoke, we didn't see it. And then I heard the whimpering," Rivera said.
He found the crate with JJ in it and picked it up. He and Galanos then exited the home with one animal safely in tow, Rivera said.
However, Tiger remained inside.
The officers crossed paths with the cat in the house, but the pet scampered away from the smoke and down to the basement, according to police.
"The cat was too quick," Rivera said.
Central Islip firefighters arrived shortly after and gained control of the blaze within minutes, Rivera said.
That's when Galanos went back inside looking for Tiger, police said.
He found the uninjured cat in the basement and reunited him with his appreciative owners, Rivera said.
"They were so thankful toward James, that he went the extra mile to find Tiger," Rivera said.
Rivera, 34, has been with Suffolk police for 1½ years, he said.
The officer grew up in Brentwood and said Friday was the most harrowing, yet, rewarding, day on the job.
"It's what I joined for. This is what I wanted to do, be helpful, make someone's day," Rivera said. He added, "I grew up here — in the Third Precinct."
Rivera said in hindsight, Friday's experience makes him happy because no one was hurt, and "thankful that I belong to a Suffolk County family that is here to help everybody."
Suffolk police detectives with the Arson Section are investigating the cause of the fire, officials said.
A photo supplied by police showed heavy damage to the house's entryway and garage.