BATH — Jon Tanguay couldn’t stop fretting over the loss of his family’s five cats in a house fire Thursday. His wife couldn’t stop gushing about how Tanguay and Bath firefighters saved her son.

“He was absolutely a hero,” said Tanya Tanguay, gazing at her husband outside the house at 62 South St., a three-story, 125-year-old Victorian that her father painstakingly restored over the past 19 years.

She also praised Joe McCole, the firefighter who stood on a porch roof and caught her son as he was dangled from a third-floor window, then helped her husband drop down to safety.

“You saved my world,” she told the 25-year veteran of the Bath Fire Department.

The house caught fire about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, with Jon Tanguay and 4-year-old Nicholas Tanguay trapped on the third floor.

Jon Tanguay, 37, had just returned from his job doing maintenance at Morse High School, a bit early because of the school vacation. His mother-in-law had been watching Nicholas but left to run errands once Tanguay got home.

Tanguay was doing laundry on the second floor when he saw smoke and heard the smoke alarm. He ran upstairs to get Nicholas.

The smoke in the stairway was impenetrable so they couldn’t get back down. He called 911.

“The firefighter said if we waited any longer (to call), we wouldn’t be here today,” Tanguay said Friday morning, still exhausted and rattled by his experience.

The emergency dispatcher told him to close the bedroom door and put a towel on the floor to keep smoke from entering. But the door, which had an opening to let the family’s cats come and go from the third-floor kitchen, allowed smoke to fill the room. Nicholas, an energetic preschooler, was frightened.

“I couldn’t see a thing. Luckily, I was able to hold him,” Tanguay said.

Tanguay and Nicholas made their way through the smoke-filled third-floor kitchen, Tanguay feeling his way and making for the light coming from the living room at the front of the house. As he looked out the window, he saw the first fire truck.

Fire Chief Steve Hinds was at the station, a few blocks away, when the alarm sounded for a possible structure fire. He was the first to arrive.

“I could see a lot of heavy smoke in the rear of the building and coming out the front windows, and knew in a second we had a fully involved structure fire,” he said.

As he planned how to attack the fire, he saw people waving at him frantically from the third-floor window. “The game plan changed immediately, to rescue the people,” he said.

With flames, heat and smoke climbing quickly, there was no time to get the department’s aerial ladder in position, he said. Firefighters leaned an extension ladder against the roof of the front porch while Hinds stretched hand lines, spraying water on the first floor, the staircases in particular, to buy time for the rescuers.

Capt. Chris Cummings and Firefighter Joe McCole climbed to the porch roof. By then, Tanguay had opened the window so he and his son could breathe.

“You could see him and his child with dark smoke coming out behind him,” McCole said.

While McCole stood on the porch roof, Tanguay lowered Nicholas by the ankles and McCole grabbed his wrists, then caught him as his father let go. McCole passed the boy to Cummings, who carried him down the ladder to a waiting ambulance.

Tanguay then hung from the window sill as dark smoke poured out of the window, and dropped to the porch roof. By then – four minutes after firefighters arrived – McCole and Tanguay climbed onto the aerial platform.

Firefighters couldn’t be sure that no one else was in the house, Hinds said, so a fire company from Brunswick that had responded searched the second and third floors. The firefighters found no one else.

Fire badly damaged the first-floor kitchen. The second and third floors sustained smoke and water damage, but the structure of the house was left intact.

McCole credited his crew for getting him in a position to help. Hinds pointed out that the hydrant near the house would have been buried under snow had firefighters, including McCole, not dug it out earlier in the day.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office deemed the fire accidental, starting in the kitchen. There was no indication that food had been left on the stove.

Tanguay said he and his son were kept at the hospital until 10 p.m. Thursday.

“They said carbon monoxide (in their systems) was at critical. I didn’t realize how bad it was,” he said. “I’m thanking the Lord to be here.”

Tanguay works part-time at the Bath Animal Hospital and said that, as relieved as he is to have survived, the loss of the family’s five cats saddens him.

“We have quite a few losses today,” he said. “They just meant the world to us.”

The house is owned by Tanguay’s father-in-law, Mickey Brockett, who lives with his family on the first two floors. They lost another six cats, two birds and a 2-year-old Great Dane named Bengal.

Brockett got emotional as he said how relieved he was that Tanguay and his grandson had been rescued.

“I’m proud of him. He saved a kid’s life, and himself,” Brockett said. “The animals, he couldn’t do anything about.”

Brockett and other family members spent Friday morning dealing with insurance adjusters and retrieving belongings from the house.

The families have insurance. Brockett said they were lucky that the fire didn’t destroy the first-floor living and dining rooms, where his wife keeps most of their irreplaceable belongings.

On Friday morning, Nicholas was tired but excited, his mother said. “He was telling me it was very hot and very smoky.”

Jon Tanguay said he and his wife still hadn’t determined which of their possessions survived. But they were smiling.

“That stuff can be replaced,” he said. “But your family is irreplaceable.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com