New Jersey police officer recovers in hospital after saving all animals in burning pet store

The exterior of the pet shop that caught fire. Source: Facebook
The exterior of the pet shop that caught fire. Source: Facebook

A police officer from the New Jersey town of Franklin has been hailed as a hero after he risked his own life to save dozens of animals from a local pet shop. According to local media, police and fire services were called to the fire at the Route 23 Pet Center, located between High Street and Rapole Street.

The police were the first to arrive on the scene, with officers Rafael Burgos and Jeffrey Korger responding to the call. The fire at the business was already well advanced, with visible flames and thick smoke billowing out of the rear of the premises. With no way of knowing if anybody was trapped inside, Officer Burgos fought his way into the shop and conducted a search.

After confirming there were no employees inside, Officer Burgos turned his attention to the frightened dogs, cats and other animals that were trapped inside cages throughout the store. Thanks to his courage, he was able to save dozens of pets, and a local veterinary hospital has accepted the survivors to treat the smoke inhalation they sustained during the fire.

Officer Burgos also sustained smoke inhalation during his heroic rescue, and he is reportedly recovering in hospital, expected to make a full recovery. Shortly after Officer Burgos concluded his rescue, crews from the local fire department arrived on the scene and were able to extinguish the blaze.

Preliminary investigations reveal that the fire did not appear to be deliberately lit. According to the County Fire Marshal, the cause was ‘mostly likely to have been from an electrical problem’. The pet shop itself has received heavy damage from the smoke of the fire.

The staff at the veterinary center which is treating the injured animals have no doubt that without the bravery and quick thinking of Officer Burgos, these pets would have all perished in the fire. “We’ve seen many cases of dogs and cats dying in relatively mild house fires,” said one of the senior staff at the clinic. “Unlike a human, who can survive some exposure to smoke, the lungs of animals are far smaller and much more susceptible to damage from smoke inhalation. If they’d been stuck in there for just ten or twenty minutes more, it’s likely they all would have died.”

However, despite the clearly brave actions of Officer Burgos, a senior member of the local council has reportedly taken to social media to criticize the officer’s actions. The councilman wrote the following post on Facebook in the days after news of Officer Burgos’ rescue was reported:

“A police officer who decides to enter a hazardous situation without proper training, without proper equipment, where no human life is at risk, isn’t a hero, he’s a fool… He deliberately placed himself in a dangerous scenario, unnecessarily placed his well-being at risk, and is NOT deserving of ‘hero’ status, but rather, disciplinary action.”

Unsurprisingly, local residents have flooded social media with messages of support for Officer Burgos. “There is no doubt in my mind that Officer Burgos is a hero. We should be thanking him for his service and for his heroic act, not punishing him,” wrote one Franklin local. Another resident added: “I’d like to see what the councilman would do if it was his pets in the burning building, I bet he wouldn’t be standing outside and waiting for the fire department to arrive.”

Officer Burgos has received strong support from the police union, who issued a statement saying that he  “… is a veteran with 20 years of law enforcement experience… He acted as a dedicated professional, as all the officers of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 57 would have done in the same scenario, and will continue to do.”