Dominic Laskero couldn't sleep.
Though 6 a.m. is earlier than the 13-year-old normally wakes up on Sundays, a fit of coughing roused him at that hour June 29 in his third-floor bedroom above the garage of his family's Hoffman Estates home.
"I got up and tried to go back to sleep," Dominic said. "But after 30 seconds, I started to gag from the smell."
What Dominic smelled was smoke coming from the garage below. And the couple minutes' head-start his nose had over the house's smoke detector might have been all the difference for his 19-year-old sister, his sister's boyfriend and their 77-year-old grandmother who were still asleep one floor below, firefighters said.
He also got the family dog out of the house, and his quick thinking helped get firefighters on the scene fast enough to recover and resuscitate two cats who'd remained trapped inside.
Those in the house had been planning to join Dominic's parents, Dominic Sr. and Deanna Laskero, and his 15-year-old sister about an hour and a half north in Wisconsin that morning. Instead, it his parents who drove home after getting a call as soon as everyone was out of the house.
Dominic had the presence of mind to grab his phone even before he left his room to investigate the strange smell that had waked him. The faint smoke he began to see in the hallway got noticeably thicker as he descended to the second floor and began knocking on bedroom doors.
While everyone else was responding groggily, Dominic noticed the smoke in the living room one floor below was already too thick to see through.
Dominic Laskero Sr. said he knows his son is agile enough to have gotten out through the second-floor window if he'd had to. The critical thing was getting his 77-year-old mother, Nicky's grandmother, out of the house.
Everyone was together as they descended the stairs. Dominic Jr. called for the family dog, who came running out through the smoke, presumably from sheltering in the basement. Everyone knew they were going to have to hold their breath and make their way through an opaque wall of deadly smoke.
"It was pretty scary," he said. "It was a good 30 feet."
Just as they were stepping out into the fresh air, the smoke alarm went off inside. But Dominic's grandmother was no longer with them.
Dominic said they shouted into the smoke for what seemed like a minute before she emerged, safe and sound.
His sister, Jessica Lotesto, called 911 on her brother's phone. Their parents were called as firefighters arrived on the 400 block of Berkley Lane.
Among the responders was Firefighter-Paramedic Kraig Olsen, whose older siblings had grown up with Dominic Laskero Sr. Once the fire was under control, Olsen volunteered to put on night vision equipment and go in to look for the family's two cats. He looked first in Jessica's room where he found both of them, one hiding underneath the bed.
The cats were revived using oxygen masks specially designed for pets. They continued their recovery with further oxygen treatment at Golf-Rose Animal Hospital in Schaumburg.
The exact cause of the accidental fire remains under investigation, but is believed to have been started by an old refrigerator in the garage. Though flames were contained to the garage, the whole house was affected by smoke damage. All the contents of the home -- including the floors -- are considered a total loss and will have to be replaced, Dominic Sr. said.
The restoration process is expected to take about two to three months. The family has been staying in a Schaumburg hotel since Sunday, Dominic Sr. said.
But everyone -- including the family's pets -- will be there when they move back in thanks to Nicky's quick thinking, he said.