Perry Cook was just taking his dogs out for some fresh air and exercise at home on June 8.
“They were bugging me,” he joked.
But the Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputy saw a fire at his neighbor Martha Coley’s home on Thorn Bush Drive in Gainesville, and he ran to rescue the 80-year-old woman, her 12-year-old foster daughter and the family dog.
“I look actually directly across the street from me, and from the backside of her house it looked like somebody was burning leaves, because it had that grayish-black smoke,” Cook said. “And my first thought was, ‘I know Ms. Martha isn’t burning leaves after I told her we’re on burn ban.’
“Then, from the top of her roof I saw flames rolling out.”
Cook said he put his dogs back inside and ran over to Coley’s house.
“The little 12-year-old girl, her foster child, was in the living room,” Cook said. “I got the door open and she was there in a panic, didn’t know what to do.”
Cook told her to meet him at the mailbox at the top of Coley’s driveway, and he then turned to locate Coley. He found her trying to pull family pictures off the walls.
“About that time I heard like a hiss and a boom,” Cook said. “And that’s when both sides of the house actually blew out and went into flames.”
Cook said he got Coley out of the house, but she repeatedly attempted to run back inside.
“All she kept talking about was Lulu,” he said. “I didn’t know who Lulu was. I thought maybe it was another person, but it happened to be her dog.”
Cook said as Coley tried to get to her dog, she fell on her side, breaking her arm and fracturing ribs. He picked her up and carried her up the driveway, away from the fire.
He then returned for Lulu, a golden retriever that originally belonged to Coley’s deceased son.
“At this point, the siding is melting and falling on us,” Cook said. “I turned around and saw the house and said, ‘What in the world did I just do?’”
A release from the Sheriff’s Office said Coley feels Cook saved her life and her daughter’s life. According to the release, the fire started in the attic, and the incident happened on Coley’s 80th birthday.
Today, Coley and her foster daughter are doing well and living with Coley’s daughter, Debbie Morrison, until the house is rebuilt.
“She’s doing great,” Morrison said. “She’s up and about again and just waiting for her house to be rebuilt. And we are so appreciative of him. He was just a godsend.”
Cook said he’s glad he happened to be out with his dogs in time to help.
“It was just a natural reaction from training they give us here at the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “I knew she was always home. I saw her car in the driveway, and I went over there.”