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Los Angeles firefighter recounts daring dog rescue


The Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter who rescued a panicked dog from the brown, rushing waters of the Los Angeles River this afternoon said that unless firefighters acted, someone else was likely to have ventured into the concrete wash and wound up a casualty.

Joe St. Georges, 50, the firefighter who captivated much of  Los Angeles as he was lowered by a tether into the churning waters to rescue the hound, told reporters late Friday that he suffered a bite to his thumb but was otherwise OK.

“I didn’t have time to establish a rapport with the dog,” St. Georges said, in a classic understatement, as he held his heavily bandaged hand in the air. “He did what dogs do.”

Vernon St. Georges was treated for the bite and released from Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. From there, he traveled to the department’s air operations center in Van Nuys to meet with a throng of reporters.

St. Georges shrugged off his injury, which he described as a single bite on the thumb.
The firefighter said it was more “prudent” for him to do the rescue than to risk having a civilian jump in after the dog.

“I’m not sure there was a whole lot that could’ve been done differently,” St. Georges told reporters. “Somebody was going to go do it, and then we’d have to rescue a human victim.”

The dog was taken by [human] ambulance to a Downey shelter run by the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, which serves 14 cities, including Vernon.

Animal Control Officer Justin Guzman said the 6-year-old German shepherd mix was cold and wet, but otherwise unhurt. He showed no further aggression, and shelter staff named him Vernon.

“He’s really lovable,” Guzman said. “He’s appreciating all the attention he’s getting here.“
Guzman said there were a “million” ways and reasons Vernon could have gotten into the river channel.

“Whether he got scared by the thunderstorm and jumped the fence, we don’t know,” he said.
The dog was never really swept away, but managed for the most part to maintain his footing on a slender ledge in the middle of the river, the officer said.

The dog will be quarantined and watched for signs of rabies.

Marcia Mayeda, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, said the disease is extremely rare in domestic animals. Untagged and loose, the dog was technically in violation of city codes, but the owners will face no repercussions if they step forward and take him home, Guzman said.

If they don’t, the shelter by early evening already had a list of 20 people who want to adopt Vernon.

Mayeda said she was very impressed by St. Georges’ actions.

“That dog wouldn’t have made it out…I think the firefighter was very brave for rescuing him. I hope he gets a medal.”

-- Gale Holland

Top photo: LAFD Firefighter Joe St. Georges rescues Vernon on Friday. Bottom photo: Vernon after rescue. Credit: KTLA

Comments () | Archives (55)

What a stupid and reckless "rescue". In the same week when LA officials are decrying the recklessness of those who defy evacuation orders, saying that they put themselves and firefighters in danger, we have a cowboy dangling from a million-dollar helicopter fifty feet above the LA river in a thunderstorm, playing dogcatcher for a stray that nobody reported missing.

This excuse about a civilian who might have waded in is the cover story. This was a jackass-style stunt, showing bad judgment and bad management in a crisis. Big surprise...remember the Station Fire? These cowboys are lucky we don't have more dead firemen...unless of course that gutter dog did have rabies. Time will tell...

Dogs have served us with honor in war and otherwise for centuries. That our society would recognize the need for and value of such a rescue speaks well for us. God bless our firemen (including the pilot) and the dog they rescued. Joe St. Georges acted in the highest traditions of his department, and he has earned a medal.

That is a stinky comment. That is somebody's dog. If that was my dog I would want him rescued. I don't feel it was out of line or too dangerous. Besides, it's good training for if it was a human.

As a dog lover I would like to say thank you to the firefighter for saving the dog life As for you (Milioje) I don't think you would feel that way if that was your dog.

Joe St. Georges, you are a hero.

To Miloje,
Stupid and reckless rescue? You wouldn't be saying that if you were the one fighting for your life. Your lack of humanity is disgusting-this is what is so "admirable" (a word you might have to look up in the dictionary) about our rescue people/firefighters. They know no boundaries, you see, he would and did jeopardize his own life to save this beautiful dog. A dog breathes, eats just as you do, so what makes their existence any different than yours/mine. As for cowboy-your further insult, tells me that you must be a real coward -hope you don't own animals or have any children-as your skills are definitely lacking.

Wow, what a brave and wonderful thing to do! Kudos!

More dumbing down of America by the newspapers. The LA Times' headline says this is "amazing" video and a "daring" rescue.

I laughed out loud when I saw the guy touch down and I realized the water was about four inches deep.

Multiple vehicles? A helicopter? Are you kidding? How about renting a ladder from Home Dept for $10 and climbing down the side with a dog biscuit?

If our brave LA firefighters and rescue teams would do this for a dog, what lengths would they go to for you or me? I am very grateful they and their expertise are close by. Thank you!

A well executed demonstration of our fire department’s training and dedication to saving lives!
More courage and compassion would make LA a better place for us all.

The firefighter who picked up the dog treated at the hospital, the dog was taken to a shelter. Unfortunately LA shelters are running out of food and asking the public for help, for more information read the LA Times article at the link below…


I was watching the rescue of a dog in Tijuana river and then the rescue in La river big,big diference one made by civilians the other by profesionals they don't do that in Mexico for a dog maybe for a human but after he drowned.



Thank You Firefighter Joe St. Georges and Everyone who helped save that dog from the river. What a Great story!

Great feel-good story!!

Unbelievable poor judgement causing improper use of emergency facilities. Unbelievable.

Only in America! God bless Joe St. Georges and colleagues! Saint Hubert, pray for us!

Thank you for rescuing this dog. It was the right thing to do.

It was truly heart warming to see the poor dog rescued! Thank you Joe St. George!
Of course the rescuers were already on duty, and did not sacrifice human rescues to attend to the dog. I'm sure that a supervisor assessed the safety of the situation, and addressed it accordingly. It probably provided practice for other rescues.
Yes, I am an animal lover, but I don't know what kind of heartless person could watch any living thing struggle for its' life, and not want to help.
Again, thanks to all involved!

Thank you SO much for rescuing the dog. Thank goodness there are people who love dogs. They add so much to our lives which some people cannot understand and don't want to understand. Dogs/animals are grateful for what we do for them which some humans are not. You did a superb job and thank goodness for people like you. People with a heart.

I couldn't disagree more with the previous poster. Dog lovers around the world are giving these guys a standing ovation for their caring and bravery - they are national news because people love their dogs. Most people anyway - and the rest dont know what they are missing. THANK YOU LA Fire Department and Mr. St George!

Good, I thought it was just me. 50 firemen, road blocked off for an hour, a helicopter at about $2500 an hour, and a firefighter facing medical retirement for animal bites for some mutt.
When will we begin to hold the fire department accountable for the incredible waste of resources? They respond with two or three engines( plus paramedics) to every minor car wreck to justify their existence. Over 90% of their calls are medical-related and has nothing to do with fires and they use those inflated figures to get more of our tax money. How many firemen does it take to "rescue" a cat from a tree? One is way too many!

What a WONDERFUL story!

Not only did they rescue one of God's creatures, but it was a way to practice a water rescue.

And yes, I totally agree that if the LAFD hadn't come to the rescue that a citizen would have and which would have complicated the situation even further.

This was a uplifting story that made national news and made the day for people across the country.

There was NOTHING stupid or reckless about this rescue. It must seem like that to someone who couldn't or wouldn't do it!

I'm a dog lover and long term owner and trainer of dogs, but I agree that the rescue of the dog was reckless. The story ended fairly well, if you overlook the medical costs of treating the fireman, but it could very well have ended badly given the bad weather and dangers of any helicopter rescue. Such heroic, but dangerous, actions should only be taken to rescue people, not pets. The assumption was made that the dog couldn't get out, but dogs have an uncanny instinct for survival and much better abilities than people in such situations.
Saying that some citizen would have gone in to try to save the dog is self serving given that no one had done so before the fireman arrived.

I think the firefighters' actions were brave and compassionate. Stories like this give me courage for humanity.

Miloje, didn't you hear about the young college student who died in a flooded area in Orange County a month or so ago because he was trying to rescue his girlfriend's dog who was swept away in a hike alongside a swollen creek?

I know plenty of people who would have risked their safety to rescue an animal in trouble, myself included.

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