Location: The Dalles, Oregon
Date: October 14, 1993
October 14, 1993, was a cloudy, misty day in The Dalles, Oregon. Jean and Jack Cherry woke early and got ready to go to work. By 7:30 that morning, Jack had already left the house, and Jean was about to take off for her own job. First, however, she had to make sure that her pet was comfortable. This was no ordinary cat or dog, however; Jean's beloved pet is a potbellied pig!
Jean and Jack have one daughter. When she went off to college in 1993, Jean decided that she needed something else to mother. She knew she'd miss her daughter very much and wanted to have someone or something else to take care of. The minute Jean met the little black potbellied pig, it was love at first sight. Jean named the pig Wilma, and began to lavish love and attention on her. Jean took the pig for walks in her neighborhood on a leash--just like a dog!
Jack knew how much his wife loved her pig, and was happy that she had such a devoted pet. He remembers the first time Wilma bit him, and he swatted her on the snout. Wilma immediately ran squealing to Jean. Jack knew then that he was in trouble--Wilma was a tattletale and if it was his word against the pig's, the pig would win!
The Cherrys' neighbors, Lisa and Jeff Renard, live directly across the street. Although the two couples didn't know each other well, Lisa remembers the first time she saw Wilma. She thought Wilma looked like a baseball with four legs! Lisa and Jeff had a pet dog that they walked, and they would often notice Jean walking Wilma around the neighborhood.
When she was ready for work that morning, Jean closed Wilma in her "special place." This was really the Cherrys' laundry room, where Wilma had her bed, food, and water, and a big window to look out of. The laundry room was directly off the Cherrys' kitchen, and Jean and Jack had installed a gate--similiar to a baby gate--to keep Wilma in the back room while they were away.
At some time that morning, a faulty electrical wire in the Cherrys' living room caught on fire. The flames from the wire soon ignited nearby curtains, and then the living room furniture also began to smolder and flame. Wilma must have smelled smoke almost immediately after the fire began, but what could she do? We can imagine her grunting and squealing in her little room, but she was trapped and couldn't escape!
Fortunately for Wilma, Lisa Renard often came home from work to have lunch. On this day, she drove home, fixed herself a meal, and sat down at her kitchen table to eat. On the way into her house, she noticed some steam rising from the Cherrys' home, but thought that it was due to the rainy weather they'd been having. As she sat at her kitchen table, however, she noticed that it was smoke coming from her neighbors' house. When she went over to her kitchen window to take a closer look, she saw actual flames coming from the house!
Lisa knew exactly what to do. Although she was terrified for Wilma's sake, she quickly dialed 911 and reported the fire. When Nyla Hill, the communications officer on duty, took Lisa's call, she asked if there was anybody in the house. Lisa replied that no, both her neighbors were at work, but that their pet potbellied pig was trapped in the house. Nyla didn't laugh--she is an animal lover and wanted to see Wilma rescued. So when she put out a call to all available units, she included in her report the fact that an animal was trapped in the house. Lisa discussed with Nyla the possibility of going into the house after the pig herself, but Lisa knew this was a foolish thing to do. Nyla cautioned her against going into the burning house. Although Lisa desperately wanted to do something to save Wilma, she had to wait for help to come.
Police officer Jeff Mason was on patrol only a mile away from the Cherrys' home, so he quickly rushed over to see how he could help. When he arrived, Lisa and several other neighbors were in the Cherrys' yard. Lisa explained to him that Wilma was trapped inside. Jeff knew that the correct procedure was to wait for the fire department to arrive. He knew that it would be extremely dangerous for him or any other unprepared person to go into the house, so he told Lisa and the assembled neighbors that they would simply have to wait until firefighters arrived.
Officer Mason's advice was sound and practical, and the little group decided to wait. Their resolve lasted only seconds, however, when they heard Wilma squealing in fear. Officer Mason knew that it was very dangerous to attempt a rescue, but he couldn't wait outside and listen to Wilma's pitiful cries for help without trying to do something. Telling Lisa and the neighbors to wait at a distance from the house, Officer Mason ran up to the laundry room door and felt the door and knob. When he determined that both were cool, he knew that there were no flames directly on the other side of the door, and that he could risk going in.
He kicked open the locked door and smoke began to pour out. He peered through the smoke and was able to see Wilma lying on her side in her little room. Taking a deep breath of cool, clean air, he ran into the room, scooped Wilma into his arms, and ran back out into the yard. When he picked her up, Wilma was lying motionless and he couldn't tell whether or not she was breathing. He could feel her quivering, however, and that gave him some hope. As soon as Officer Mason got outside, Lisa ran up and took Wilma from him. Cradling the pig in her arms, Lisa began blowing air into Wilma's snout.
Firefighters arrived on the scene very quickly--within eight minutes of Lisa's 911 call. As soon as the fire department pulled up, Officer Mason asked for oxygen for Wilma. Attaching a nasal cannula to her snout, he was able to administer oxygen to her, and within three minutes Wilma was back on her feet! While firefighters worked to put out the blaze, Officer Mason and Lisa tended the shocked but recovering pig.
While this dramatic rescue was taking place, someone had placed a call to Jean at work. She immediately ran to her car and drove until she came upon her own home in flames. She wasn't worried about her house, however; she was worried about Wilma. As she noted afterward, their house and possessions were things that could be replaced; Wilma was a special pet who could not! She pulled into her driveway and began to run toward the kitchen door when she heard Lisa yelling above all the other noise, saying that Wilma was safe in the front yard. Jean ran over, picked up her pig, and began crying and thanking Lisa and Officer Mason.
Assistant Fire Chief Charlie Norris and his crew had the fire under control in less than ten minutes. Although he is very pleased that they were able to contain the fire and that the pig was saved, Chief Norris wouldn't advise anyone to attempt the sort of rescue that Officer Mason carried out. He noted that Officer Mason had had some firefighting training, and so knew to check that the door was cool and to keep a level head, but Assistant Chief Norris knows that fire and smoke kill, and all rescues should be left to the fire department.
As for Jean and Jack, they know about the heroes of the day are Officer Mason and Lisa Renard. They learned a valuable lesson about the importance of checking all electrical wiring, since the fire was caused by a faulty wire. They are delighted to have Wilma safe and sound and back in their family. Officer Mason received some teasing about "saving the bacon" but he is justifiably proud of his actions and glad that the story had a happy ending.