By Luke Baynes
A bus fire on New Year’s Day caused the death of a canine, but another dog was saved through the heroic efforts of John Thamann, a driver for Gulliver’s Doggie Daycare.
Thamann, a Jericho resident, was treated at Fletcher Allen Health Care for burns and smoke inhalation and was released later that day.
“He seems to be doing well,” said Amanda Poquette, general manager of Williston-based Gulliver’s Doggie Daycare. “He has some minor burns on his back and the back of his head and on his hands. Fortunately, he had a big, thick coat on and a hat.”
According to Poquette, Thamann was making his usual rounds picking up dogs from people’s homes when he smelled smoke. He pulled into a parking lot at 1333 Williston Road, near the intersection of Vermont 116 and adjacent to a Gulf gas station.
“Fortunately, when he pulled over he was away from the pumps and the fire department got there very quickly,” Poquette said. “Unfortunately, the fire happened really rapidly.”
Georgia, Vt. resident Jayson Stebbins was on his way home from visiting family when he saw the fire. By that time, Thamann had rescued one dog, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever boxer.
“I was on my way up 116 and I happened to notice the van on fire,” Stebbins said. “I pulled in and ran over to check on the driver to make sure he was all right, and he said there was one more (dog) in the van. I ran into Gracey’s (Store & Deli) and grabbed their fire extinguisher. I busted the window and tried to spray the cage, but by the time I got there the dog was just lying there in the cage.”
Stebbins, who did not require hospitalization, said he had to restrain Thamann from re-entering the burning vehicle.
“He tried to jump back in the bus to try to get the little one out and I grabbed him and I pointed at the cage and I said, ‘Look, he’s gone. There’s no reason to get on,’” Stebbins said. “The smoke was billowing out of that little bus like a house. It was so hot and the smoke was so thick, you couldn’t even see to the other side of the bus.”
The fire was extinguished by the South Burlington Fire Department. A press release issued by the South Burlington Police Department states that “the cause of the fire appears to be vehicle mechanical failure.”
The press release also notes that police officer Dan Boyer was the first emergency responder on the scene. He suffered lung irritation while attempting to put out the fire with his cruiser’s fire extinguisher, but is in good condition after being released from Fletcher Allen.
Only two dogs were in the vehicle at the time of the fire. Poquette said the tragedy could have been worse if it had occurred during a typical weekday.
“We typically will have an average of 10 dogs riding. Being a holiday, it was a little bit slower since most people were home for the day,” she said.
The destroyed bus was Gulliver’s only means of transporting animals. Poquette said her company owns another vehicle that will be converted for animal transport, but for the time being owners will have to drop their pets off at Gulliver’s facility on Industrial Avenue.
Despite the loss of the bus, Poquette said she is thankful that Thamann is safe and recovering well from his injuries.
“He really did everything he could,” Poquette said. “We couldn’t ask for any more.”