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Honoring a dog that died to save five; Nana killed by fire after alerting family

Nana, a 2-year-old Saint Bernard, was apparently not content to let her family sleep while their house burned down.

Today, she's being honored for helping save her family of five at the expense of her own life and for adding to the legend of the breed.

The fire happened just outside of Jamestown in an 1819 farmhouse once owned by a well-known local artist. Known as the Koffin House, the home had belonged to the Petscher family for more than four years.

The family had wanted a big family dog, and they got one.

"She was 165 pounds, but she was a lap dog," said Menash Petscher, who lived in the house with his wife and three children. "When you're sitting on a couch, her head was almost eye level with you. She was a family dog, and she loved the kids."

He paused.

"It's weird to even be talking about her in the past tense," he said.

On Jan. 17, after a day spent at the house with relatives, Petscher's oldest daughter fell asleep on the living room couch. Petscher, who was recovering from minor surgery himself, couldn't carry the 6-year-old upstairs and decided to sleep downstairs with her instead.

It was cold outside, so despite knowing better, he piled a few logs onto the fireplace fire and drifted off.

"It had been four years, and we'd never had an issue," he said. "I guess I got complacent."

The family had smoke detectors in the house, he said, and their oldest daughter, Madelyn, had insisted a year ago that the family work out an emergency fire escape plan after a school field trip to the Chautauqua Children's Safety Education Village.

But the fire still caught them by surprise.

About an hour after falling asleep, at 11:15 p.m. or so., Petscher was awakened by Nana, who was persistently and uncharacteristically licking his face. Then he smelled the smoke and checked the house.

Smoke was filling the living room and kitchen areas and settling into the rear family room. His wife, who was nursing the baby upstairs, also noticed the smell and came down to meet him on the landing. Petscher told his wife the house was on fire, and the two scrambled upstairs to grab their two youngest daughters, now ages 3 and 8 months.

Nana followed them up the stairs, he recalled. Petscher lost track of their Saint Bernard after that. His wife, Nichole, put the youngest girls in the car, while Menash grabbed Madelyn downstairs and joined the rest of them across the street at a neighbor's house.

Though 911 had been called, Menash Petscher said, he felt compelled to return to the house. He saw one of his dogs outside in the yard and knew Nana and the family's two cats were still inside. He didn't expect to save the cats, he said, but he wasn't ready to leave Nana to die.

"I was crawling on my stomach in the house, calling for Nana," he said, but she didn't come.

He tried opening one of the French doors to the rear family room to give Nana another door to escape through in case she was trapped back there, but he only wound up drafting fire further into the house.

"I didn't stay in there as I could have," he said.

By now, his wife and neighbors were frantic and called for him to come out, he said. State police were the first to arrive within about 10 minutes, and Petscher said he asked them to save his dog, but by then, the flames had overtaken the house.

For about a day, the family hoped Nana had escaped the house on her own and would return to them, he said. But they eventually found the dog's body inside the house as it was being demolished.

The subsequent investigation surmised that an ember or log escaped the fireplace and set fire to the living room carpet, igniting what became a total loss for the Petscher family. Though the Petschers had working fire detectors, they apparently were poorly placed, and the working chimney may have drafted smoke out of the house even as the fire spread, he said.

In honor of Nana, the Chautauqua Children's Safety Education Village, a nonprofit agency that teaches safety education to schoolchildren and youth groups, will hold a special ceremony today. It will display a plaque featuring Nana and the words "A True Fire Hero."

"We consider her a fire hero just because of her instinct, and that she knew to wake the father, who was downstairs at the time," said Terri Kindberg, the agency's executive director.

The Invisible Fence Company will also donate two pet resuscitation kits to the two local fire companies that responded to the scene in hopes that they will someday save the life of a pet, Kindberg said.

Since January, the Petschers have received immense support from extended family, the community and even others outside of New York State. Menash Petscher, who is self-employed as a flooring installer, said he's been humbled by the kindness and donations his family has received.

"We had people who didn't even know us send us care packages," he said.

The family is living in a rental property while their home is rebuilt. They lost all their belongings, with the exception of a handmade quilt that had been wrapped around one of their daughters.

But Petscher said that if he had the choice between saving all his belongings or Nana, he'd save his dog. She was a member of the family, too, he said.

"Those are the things you can't get back," he said.