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Dog helps family escape Brentwood house fire

Carol Swinson and her dog Bear spend time

Carol Swinson and her dog Bear spend time together near her home in Brentwood. Bear woke Swinson up, alerting her of a home fire. "This dog saved my life," Swinson said. (July 17, 2013) Read the story. Credit: Chris Ware

Awakened before sunrise, Carolyn Swinson was surprised to find Bear, her newly adopted 145-pound dog, jumping on her bed and panting in her face.

The Brentwood woman pushed her hulking pet away. As the excited dog ran around the bedroom, she walked to the window, drawn by a strange orange glow. Then she felt searing heat.

Minutes later, Swinson, 58, and her 9-year-old grandson, D.J., were on the sidewalk, happy to be alive. Thanks to Bear's alert, they escaped a fire that charred her home early Wednesday.

While the cause of the 5:27 a.m. blaze remains under investigation, Swinson believes it was sparked by faulty wiring connected to a pool filter. The fire wound up spreading to the second floor, where her bedroom is.

"He was meant for me," Swinson said of her dog. "He saved my life."

Swinson adopted Bear from the Islip Animal Shelter two weeks ago to replace her previous dog, a 14-year-old Rottweiler who suffered a seizure during superstorm Sandy and had to be euthanized.

Bear, a 3-year-old Neapolitan mastiff-cane corso mix, was found wandering the streets of Oakdale in May, presumably abandoned by his owner, said Inez Birbiglia, spokeswoman for the Town of Islip.

Recounting her close call yesterday, Swinson said she ran downstairs after being roused by Bear and found strangers at her front door, telling her the house was on fire.

One woman tried to pull her outside, but Swinson refused.

"My grandson is in there sleeping," Swinson, a retired NYPD detective, told the woman. "I have to get my grandson, and I have to get my dog."

After ushering out D.J., she found Bear running in circles in the smoke-filled dining room and grabbed him by the collar.

A group of police officers arrived and attempted to douse the flames with a garden hose. Swinson and D.J., her only grandchild, sat on the curb, watching the fire spread.

"I'm still asleep," she remembered saying to herself. "This can't be happening."

Brentwood Fire Department crews had the blaze under control by 6:04 a.m., said Rob Kuehn, inspector for the fire district. Swinson's home of 25 years suffered extensive damage from fire, smoke and water.

"It was very scary," D.J. said.

Wednesday afternoon, Bear was stretched out under an air conditioner at her sister's house in Central Islip, where Swinson is staying temporarily.

She has already warned her pastor that she's taking the big gray dog to church on Sunday.

"He's going to sit in the pew right next to me," she said.

With Gary Dymski

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