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Posted on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Man whose cat was saved from burning building by Ann Arbor firefighter thankful, starting over

By Kyle Feldscher


Ian Gallagher holds his 5-year-old cat Earnhardt in the spare bedroom of his new apartment. Earnhardt was one of the pets rescued by firefighters during a fire at his apartment at Schooner Cove earlier this month.

Melanie Maxwell I

Ian Gallagher got a phone call on Jan. 7 that no person ever wishes to receive: His apartment building was on fire, his unit was heavily damaged and it wasn’t clear if his cat, Earnhardt, was safe.

Gallagher lived in a third-floor apartment at building 5086 at the Schooner Cove apartment complex in Ypsilanti Township. A grease fire in one of the other apartments in the building spread and a devastating blaze displaced 11 families.

Gallagher said he was at work on the afternoon of Jan. 7 at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System when the fire broke out. He said he returned from lunch and found he’d received calls, emails and texts telling him to come back to Schooner Cove right away. He was shocked when he arrived at the complex.

“It was bad. My first reaction was that it looked like everything was gone,” he said. “I was concerned about my cat and if he got out. There were things of sentimental value that were destroyed and can’t be replaced, but other things would be replaced with time.”

Gallagher didn’t know how lucky Earnhardt had been.

Ann Arbor firefighter Jason Gravelle had climbed a ladder to get to Gallagher’s third-story apartment and, with the assistance of other Ann Arbor firefighters, rescued Earnhardt. Gravelle said Monday he pulled the cat out from under a desk as the apartment’s roof began falling in.

When he got to Schooner Cove, Gallagher received word Earnhardt was safely in the complex’s leasing office. Earnhardt nuzzled against his owner and buried his head in Gallagher’s arms when the two of them were reunited.

Gallagher was told about Gravelle’s actions after he picked up Earnhardt, but wasn’t able to thank him at the scene of the fire.

“I didn’t get too many details other than firefighters pulled him out of the window,” he said. “I didn’t stick around, I took him to the vet to get checked out.”

Earnhardt had to stay overnight at a veterinarian’s clinic to see if he showed any signs of injury from smoke inhalation, Gallagher said. Earnhardt had some small burns in the back of his mouth from breathing in the burning room, but veterinarians say the cat is no worse for the wear.

Gallagher and Earnhardt stayed at a friend's house until he found a new apartment near the end of last week. He had moved into the new residence and was getting thing sorted out on Friday.

Earnhardt continues to recover — Gallagher said he was pretty timid and nervous for a couple days after the fire.

“He was timid for the next day or so, he wouldn’t eat,” Gallagher said, but “after a day or so, he’s come around to eating again and he’s not hiding anywhere.”

Gallagher is back to work at the VA Hospital and dealing with all the usual complications that come with a devastating fire — talking with insurance adjusters, figuring out what can be salvaged from the apartment and how to deal with future plans that must be put on hold. He said he was looking at buying a condominium or small house in the area before the fire, but had to find more temporary housing.

As life settles down, Gallagher is looking to get in touch with Gravelle to personally thank him for saving Earnhardt.

“I’d just like to thank him,” he said. “It’s one thing to risk yourself to get into a burning building and save another person. To save an animal, especially one that’s not your animal and you have no connection to, really speaks to the character of the firefighters.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Lizzy Alfs

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 : 12:17 a.m.

Thanks for sharing this! Very touching and I love the photo.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 8:07 p.m.

Earnhardt. Last name or first? NASCAR fan?


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

Wonderful story! So glad Earnhardt is ok and reunited with his owner!

Top Cat

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:06 p.m.

Earnhardt looks disinterested in his 15 minutes of fame.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Thanks to all you firefighters our there! You guys seem to have been busy lately and we want you to know that we appreciate what you do.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Kyle - I have a question that maybe you can answer. I am a pet-owner so this article obviously touches me and makes me worry for my own cats should some similar disaster hit my home. What I, and I'm sure others, would like to know is: How did the AAFD know to look for Earnhardt (and the other pets)? What can I do to insure that the AAFD is aware that there are cats in my home? Do they look for those window stickers that have people and pet headcounts? Is there anything else I can do? Thank you.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Hi Jennifer, You can also check out this website for some tips about emergency preparedness for your pets. In the top right corner is a link to a checklist with a lot of information about taking care of your pets in an emergency. Hope this helps!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

I bought car and dog stickers at Peaceable Kingdom for a friend. I would inquire at local pet shops and make sure your neighbors know that you have a pet! What a sweet kitty!

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

Jennifer - Great question. For this particular incident, it was really very simple: People outside the apartments were able to see Earnhardt sitting in the window looking outside. When neighbors noticed him, they were able to point him out for firefighters. Often, firefighters are notified there are pets in a home or apartment by the residents or neighbors. I think the window stickers with pets and people head counts is a great idea. I'm not sure if there is any particular protocol for firefighters to check on pets in the home, but I will try and find out for you. Stay tuned.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Earnhardt is sure a pretty boy! Ian, I am so happy for the both of you. God Bless you both.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

This is a fortunate outcome from a life altering tragedy for all involved. So glad to see that Earnhardt is back where he belongs. The unfortunate part of this story after watching the video that was posted in the original article is that to me it was apparent that this firefighter put a lot at risk. A critical mistake was the lack of use of his breathing apparatus which in turn is a violation to MiOSHA and his departments rules I'm sure . There are several reports indicating firefighter deaths in NiOSH (National Occupational Safety organization) investigations following fatal incidents that indicate improper use or lack of a breathing apparatus as the cause of death for the firefighters. This may appear to have been a simple task but entering an atmosphere that is imminently dangerous to life and health due to toxic gases is a huge risk and violation. Not only did he put his life in danger but he put the fire department and City at risk for fines and violations if MiOSHA is aware of this. I do not want to overshadow the great job these hero's did to save as much property as possible and fortunately all residents were safe. Just the fact that please remember what your training has taught you and don your SCBA, it only takes a second and your family will thank you for it. Stay safe and best wishes for the residents that there lives can be back in order as soon as possible.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:06 p.m.

"SCBA Rule #1: If you've got it, wear it With the infinite variety of building and household materials available, we must assume that we are entering a toxic environment at the fire scene. Once the source of the fire is known, the need for continued use of the SCBA can be reassessed." This is also recommended by NFPA, MiOSHA, and numerous other standards. Though it is considered somewhat of a judgment call, everyone says, "Just wear it!" And I worked for a fire department for a while in case you were curious about my credentials.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

What fire fighting credentials are you basing this comment on?

J. A. Pieper

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

Beautiful cat, and yes, we really do need to show our appreciation to our fire people! Obviously, they know our pets are family!

Jason Gravelle

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

Glad to see the two of them reunited. Earnhardt certainly looks much calmer in his arms than he did in mine! Mr. Gallagher, after reading the story and seeing that the two of you are back together, that's all the thanks necessary. I wish you and Earnhardt the best in getting back on your feet. As was noted in previous stories, firefighters from multiple jurisdictions rescued many animals from that fire as well as people's personal belongings. Everyone that was on scene did a great job.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

Thank you for your hard work and big heart :O)


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. Gravelle!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

Thank you (and all your colleagues) for the amazing, courageous, and caring work you do!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

God Bless, you Jason! sign me, an unapologetic cat lover, Madeleine Baier AND "Esther"


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

Now this is the kind of comment on an article I like to see! The "full circle-ness" is priceless and inspiring!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Jason, you and your colleagues are all awesome! Thanks for doing what you do!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

You rock, Jason!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Great article! Thank you for following up on this story. I always appreciate hearing stories like these.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 12:28 p.m.

You should do your homework and you would find other animals were rescued. can never seem to get the whole story .


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

You expect them to do a story on every animal rescued!?!


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

Can't you at least pretend to be happy?!

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

A2Girl63 - I've mentioned many times that there are other families affected and other people whose pets were rescued. This is just one of their stories.


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 2 p.m.

They actually did mention that in the original article. They are highlighting this particular situation. So many bigger things to worry about in life.....


Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.



Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

God Bless

kindred spirit

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

That photo says it all. They will help each other heal from the ordeal. May your adjustment be as tranquil as possible.