Veterinarian plans to rebuild following clinic fire

Smoke claims lives of pets in N.Y. practice

July 19, 2010 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Black smoke came billowing out as Dr. Robert Monaco opened the door of his Plainview, N.Y., practice on Sunday morning. With a towel over his face and plans to rescue the animals inside, an off-duty police officer grabbed him.

"He said, 'Don't go. You're going to die in there.'"

Monaco took the officer's advice, learning later that the animals inside the Old Country Animal Clinic — two dogs, birds and a rabbit — perished from smoke inhalation.

Of the pet owners, he says: "They're heartbroken. They understand it was nobody's fault. I tried to get in. I, myself, had to go to an ambulance."

Several firefighters reportedly suffered minor injuries, including heat exhaustion.

Now in the aftermath, the near 16-year practice owner and member of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) is assessing the practice's structural damage. Authorities suspect that the fire's origin was electrical, though an investigation remains underway. In a VIN News Service interview, Monaco retraced events that led up to the blaze on Sunday.

"We had a brownout in the shopping center where we're located on Saturday; half the building was without power," Monaco recalls. "We were able to function, but we had no air conditioning, so we put fans on the animals."

At 10 p.m. Saturday, workers began maintenance on some nearby transformers and Monaco was told to shut off the power to his practice. To monitor patients, a technician stayed at the practice until 1 a.m. Sunday, when Monaco reports that the power returned to normal levels.

The next thing the veterinarian knew, the fire alarm was going off at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.

"Things were burned; there's been a lot of smoke damage," he says. "I don't know how bad it is. I'm not sure about the equipment, but the walls, the ceiling and the floor need to be replaced."

Though it's likely to take months to rebuild, Monaco soon plans to resume practice thanks, in part, to the kindness of a client who is lending him an RV. As far as other donations are concerned, Monaco says he is not in need of anything.

"Everybody has been very nice," he says. "We're going to start seeing clients out of the RV this week."

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