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February 14, 2003

Hearing impaired couple escapes burning home

From: Milwaukee Freeman Newspapers, WI - 14 Feb 2003

Dog trained to alert couple to fire

February 14, 2003

A hearing impaired Hartford couple lost their home to a blazing fire, but escaped with their lives after one of them saw smoke billowing under a door.

John Manthe and Kari Abitz, who rent the property at 1219 E. Sumner St., were home at the time the fire broke out, shortly after 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The couple made it out of the home relatively unharmed, though Abitz was treated for smoke inhalation at Aurora Medical Center and released. The couple’s children, Kristina Abitz, 13, and Heather Manthe, 9, were at school at the time.

While the family was unharmed, they lost a dog and two cats in the fire. The dog was trained to alert Manthe and Abitz, both of whom are hearing impaired, to loud noises. The dog, named Blackie, was found in the basement, not far from where the fire started.

"John was in one of the rooms watching TV, and he saw some smoke coming from the basement, so he opened the door and flames shot out. He told Kari to get out and ran to my house to call for help," said neighbor Dan Robinson.

It is not known if the dog played any role in alerting the couple to the fire.

Firefighters from the Hartford and Slinger fire departments worked until the evening hours securing the fire scene. The home, which Manthe and Abitz rent, was a total loss, he said. A dollar amount was not available.

Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, officials said preliminary indications point to an electrical problem.

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