DuPage recognizes sheriff's deputy who saved dogs in kennel fire

  • DuPage County sheriff's deputy Chris Obrochta, center, was recognized last week for helping save dogs during a Jan. 14 kennel fire near West Chicago. Obrochta received a commendation for heroism from Sheriff James Mendrick, left. County board Chairman Dan Cronin, right, also read a proclamation thanking Obrochta.

    DuPage County sheriff's deputy Chris Obrochta, center, was recognized last week for helping save dogs during a Jan. 14 kennel fire near West Chicago. Obrochta received a commendation for heroism from Sheriff James Mendrick, left. County board Chairman Dan Cronin, right, also read a proclamation thanking Obrochta. Courtesy of DuPage County

  • Roughly 30 dogs were saved from a fire at a kennel near West Chicago on Jan. 14, but roughly 30 dogs died in the blaze.

      Roughly 30 dogs were saved from a fire at a kennel near West Chicago on Jan. 14, but roughly 30 dogs died in the blaze. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/2/2019 6:30 PM

DuPage County sheriff's deputy Chris Obrochta was on patrol before dawn on Jan. 14 when he spotted a glow in the distance.

Realizing it was a fire, he rushed to the scene near West Chicago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When he arrived at D & D Kennels, the second floor of the brick structure at the northeast corner of North Avenue and County Farm Road was engulfed in flames. After notifying dispatchers, Obrochta found the operator of the kennel, Garrett Mercado, outside the building. Mercado told Obrochta that dozens of dogs were trapped inside.

"He was begging me to help," Obrochta said.

What happened next would earn Obrochta a commendation for heroism from the sheriff's office and a proclamation from the DuPage County Board.

Obrochta knew it would be impossible to reach the animals on the second floor. But he and Mercado were able to run into the burning building and free dogs from cages on the first floor.

Smoke was filling the first floor as Obrochta opened cages as quickly as he could. He did that for about 30 seconds before the smoke became too thick.

"I know from my experience how quickly fire spreads," said Obrochta, a 23-year veteran of the sheriff's office. "It was loud in there with the animals in distress. But I assessed that we had a short amount of time, and we did what we could in that time."

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With time running out, Obrochta ordered Mercado to leave the building. The deputy then grabbed a cage containing a large dog and carried it outside.

Roughly 30 dogs were killed during the blaze, which is being investigated by the DuPage County Fire Investigation Task Force. Still, about 30 animals were saved by the emergency personnel that responded to the fire.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said Obrochta "went above and beyond the call of duty." Last week, he presented Obrochta with a proclamation thanking him for his service to the county.

Sheriff James Mendrick, meanwhile, gave Obrochta a department commendation for heroism.

"He took quick action with no regard for his own safety," Mendrick said. "He went into a burning building. He was releasing dogs to get them out of there. The whole time, he's making sure the resident is OK. He's keeping him out of danger."

As soon as emergency crews arrived, Obrochta had Mercado checked out by paramedics. Meanwhile, firefighters battled the blaze to rescue dogs and corral them in the front yard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I give a lot of credit to all the first responders that came because they then took over the rescue," he said.

While he's thankful for the recognition, Obrochta said what happened on that day was "a team effort."

"I took an oath when I started this profession," he said. "Part of that oath is to protect life and property. So to me, I was just doing my job."

Still, Mendrick said he believes the outcome could have been much more tragic if Obrochta hadn't seen the fire and acted on his own to respond.

"If he didn't autonomously respond," Mendrick said, "there would have been no way -- by the time we got a call for service -- that any of those dogs could have been saved."

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