‘We have a wonderful community’
When a Saturday evening stove fire caused an estimated $50,000 damage to a Desha Avenue home in the Keaukaha area in Hilo, firefighters were able to save something no amount of money can replace — a pet cat named Ceci.
According to Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Provencal, firefighters found Ceci inside the house, overwhelmed by smoke and unresponsive. They took her to the carport, where they resuscitated her with oxygen.
“Actually, they used a little tiny pediatric mask, about the size of your nose or my nose,” Provencal said. “The same one we would use on a baby. It’ll just fit right over the cat’s mouth and nose.”
Asked how often firefighters resuscitate an animal overcome by smoke inhalation, Provencal replied “rarely.”
“I’ve got 29 years in the department, and it’s a first for me,” he said.
According to Provencal, Ceci was alive when found, but firefighters weren’t sure they could save the 2-year-old spayed female.
“She wasn’t breathing normally,” Provencal said.
Joshua Riccio, a firefighter recruit for the Department of Transportation Airports Division — and part of a joint training class with HFD recruits — turned his attention to Ceci, a former stray who was rescued by the family of Mark Medeiros and Cheryl Polikapu-Medeiros.
Within a minute or two, Riccio had his first rescue as a firefighter.
“The breathing picked up; the eyes seemed to get focused,” Provencal said. “The cat actually licked the inside of the mask for a minute, and the next thing, the cat started to pick her head up. The cat then got up and took a look around.
“There was a bunch of firemen around the cat, so it took off and went under the car.”
According to a written fire department statement, 12 units responded to the 6:30 p.m. alarm, with the first unit arriving on scene four minutes later. Firefighters found the fire almost under control, thanks to the quick action of neighbors, which included Auli‘i Kuamo‘o, a police officer.
“When he found out that the house was burning — my son called, and he heard, I guess, on his scanner — he just dropped what he was doing and he came down here ASAP with a fire extinguisher,” Mark Medeiros said.
“My neighbor saw the fire from her house, and her husband came over. He was with the water hose, and she was helping my son while he was calling 911,” Cheryl Polikapu-Medeiros added.
Kuamo‘o and the other neighbors “cleared the house, made sure everyone was out,” according to Provencal.
“The kitchen was pretty well gutted, a lot of smoke in the house. Those guys knocked it down,” he said.
Firefighters were able to save the structure itself, about $250,000 in property value.
Polikapu-Medeiros said the firefighters were careful not to let the couple’s children know Ceci had been overcome by the smoke.
“They came to me and whispered to me that she wasn’t doing very well, but they were going to try to resuscitate her,” she said. “She’s a little freaked out still; she’s traumatized. But she’ll be all right.”
“We’ll go the little bit extra for somebody. That’s what we do,” Provencal said, and added that Polikapu-Medeiros “wasn’t even concerned so much about the house burning or smoke in the clothes.”
“She joked about wanting to renovate the kitchen, anyway,” he said. “She was concerned about the kids being safe and the family pets.”
The family dog and a white kitten they’d adopted were outside and not affected by the fire. Another pet cat, a black male named Lucky, apparently took off during the fire or the commotion afterwards.
The couple praised the quick actions of police, firefighters, neighbors, the Red Cross and their insurance company.
“We’re blessed; everything is good,” Polikapu-Medeiros said. “We’re missing one of our cats, still, our Lucky boy is missing, but other than that, we feel blessed. We have a wonderful community. Everybody looks out for each other.”
Asked if she had anything else to add, Polikapu-Medeiros said, “Remind everybody to check their fire alarms, their smoke detectors. Because that’s what woke up my son from his nap and got him to get out of the house.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.