DRACUT -- Michael Patenaude didn't really think about what he was about to do when he stopped his car in front of a burning home on Varnum Avenue early Saturday and was told by the 76-year-old resident that one of her dogs was still inside.
"I didn't really think about it at all," he said. "I just went in."
Patenaude, a 20-year-old Dracut man who works for an auto-parts company, was on his way home from a friend's house when he spotted the blaze and called 911 before getting out of his vehicle.
After speaking to resident Elaine Buote as she stood in her driveway with one of her dogs, Patenaude ran inside the home in search of another pooch.
"I gave her my phone and put my sweatshirt over my face," Patenaude said.
Patenaude said there was a lot of fire in the side of the house he entered, and that despite having difficulty seeing, he made his way to the other side of the house, where there was more smoke but less fire.
"I ran in there and couldn't really see anything," Patenaude said. "It was just smoky and there was this orange light since there was fire everywhere."
Patenaude said he found Buote's dog hiding under a chair, exactly where Buote had told him it would be, but the dog ran away from him and into another room. Undeterred, Patenaude continued pursuing the dog into another room, closer to the flames.
Patenaude said he had trouble breathing as he found the dog in another room, and grabbed it as it tried to escape again.
"For a while, I was just trying to be gentle, but at that point, I just had to get out of there," Patenaude said.
The four-alarm fire caused major damage to the home and drew firefighters from several local communities.
Buote escaped without injury, and while Patenaude said he was left with a "smoky taste" in his throat, he too declined medical treatment.
Buote's daughter, Donna Buote, reported later that weekend that her mother was doing well and that insurance should cover the damage to the house.
"My mother is very thankful and grateful that he did this," Donna Buote said in a Facebook message about Patenaude's actions.
Patenaude said he has dogs, too, but that it wasn't being a dog owner that led him to rush inside the burning home.
"It was just that there was a living thing in there, and it was an old lady and it was all she had," he said. "She said it was just her and her two dogs, so I didn't think about it. I just went in and got it for her. Material things can be replaced."
Patenaude said his sweatshirt helped keep him from getting burned inside the house, but he had a few close calls nonetheless.
While he's aware of the danger he faced, he said he would do it again.
"If it came down to it and for some reason this happens to me again, I would do it again," he said.
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