RARITAN TWP. -- On New Year's Eve, emergency responders needed to use a pet oxygen mask to revive the Suchorsky family's Golden Retriever after rescuing him from their home in Hunterdon County during a fast-moving fire.
But on a balmy Friday morning, the Suchorskys were out on their front lawn near the end of a cul-de-sac in the township with a fully recovered Riley, who recently completed training to become a therapy dog.
Riley was the center of attention at a press conference where John and Kathy Suchorsky thanked a slew of folks -- including township firefighters, emergency medical technicians, the local community and the ADT security company -- for rescuing Riley and two cats, and helping out the family after the house was no longer inhabitable. No people were in the house at the time of the fire.
"The community just opened up their arms," Kathy Suchorsky, principal at Robert Hunter Elementary School in Flemington, said in an interview. "Without that, we would not have survived."
Noting that a gofundme page has been invaluable in helping pay expenses for the animals, Suchorsky said teachers and other folks at her school have been providing anonymous gifts. The gofundme campaign alone raised over $27,000.
"I'll walk into school and at my desk, there will be a pancake flipper or a pair of shoes," she said.
The house suffered extensive damage in the blaze and Suchorsky said it will be at least a year before they can move back in.
The couple, who have four adult daughters no longer living with them, have been staying temporarily in Clinton.
But meanwhile, the pets have recovered and the firefighters were able to salvage many important personal keepsakes from the house during the fire, the couple said. When the firefighters arrived, they said, they found Riley protecting one of the cats, Romeo, under the Christmas tree.
Describing the day of the blaze, John Suchorsky said he was in the intensive care unit at Overlook Hospital in Summit, accompanying his father who had a stroke, when he received a phone call from one of his daughters.
"She said ADT called to say 'there's smoke in the house'," he recalled. "I drove an hour-and-half to see my house in flames."
3 pets saved from Raritan Twp. home blaze
Lynn Costlow, senior vice president for ADT, which sponsored the press conference, said that even if you have a smoke detector, "if it's not monitored" by a device such as the one installed by ADT, "there's nothing you can do" if you're not home when a fire breaks out.
Kathy Suchorsky said she was "just across town" when she received the call from their daughter, but after she made the eight-minute drive home, "it was amazing to see the extent of the damage."
Praising the firefighters for their quick response, John Suchorsky pointed out that by the time he got home, all the pets had been taken to a veterinarian for treatment. "It's a miracle that Riley is fully recovered," he said.
An honored presence at the press conference was Bob Deurr, the ADT dispatcher who placed the call to a 911 operator in Hunterdon County from his office in Rochester, N.Y. He received a Life Saver award.
As Deurr arrived midway through the press conference, he approached the assembled group, recognized the Golden Retriever and said, "Hello, Riley."
It was his first in-person contact with the Suchorskys. "You kept our family whole," Kathy Suchorsky said as she hugged him.
During the 911 call, played at the press conference, Deurr said he initially received a burglary signal, then it "turned into a fire."
In Hunterdon County, the dispatcher said "crews are there already," having already received a 911 call from an elderly neighbor who spotted the fire but didn't know the exact address.
Raritan Township Deputy Fire Chief Keith Paradiso told the group the successful rescue mission was "a great team effort. Alerting programs, such as ADT, burglar alarms and smoke alarms, greatly affect our response time."
Paradiso also unveiled a sticker emergency responders are distributing to homeowners, which says, "In Case of Fire, Rescue Pets Inside."
Dave Guiliani, chief of the Flemington-Raritan Rescue Squad, summoned Riley for a demonstration of the pet oxygen mask that saved his life. "Pets are emotional to a lot of us," Guiliani said.
The press conference proved the occasion for several people to show their appreciation to Raritan Township's emergency responders.
ADT presented a check for $5,000 to the Raritan Township Fire Co., and John and Kathy Suchorsky gave the fire department a $1,000 check. Meanwhile, the Suchorskys' daughters gave $500 to the fire company and $500 to the rescue squad.
As for the recovered Riley, he's scheduled to begin duty as a therapy dog on March 2, Dr. Seuss's birthday, when children will read aloud to him, Kathy Suchorsky said.
"No one lost sight of how valuable he is to us," she said.
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