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Fox Valley firefighter killed by dog she was trying to save

Bristol Kendall Firefighter Dawn Brown passed away Monday Big
Rock while off-duty.

Bristol Kendall Firefighter Dawn Brown passed away on Monday in Big Rock while off-duty.

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Mastiffs massive

The name ‘mastiff’ can refer to more than two-dozen breeds of large dogs, but most commonly refers to English Mastiffs.

Males of the breed can weigh up to 250 pounds and measure 3 feet tall at the shoulder. Females can reach up to 200 pounds.

The breed is known for its “combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility,” according the American Kennel Club.

But mastiffs have historically fought alongside Roman soldiers and been bred for bloodsports like dog fighting, bear-baiting, lion-fighting and fights with gladiators. They also have a history as guard dogs.

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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:52AM

A Fox Valley firefighter who was found dead in her home this week was killed by a large dog she had recently taken in, the Kane County sheriff’s office said Wednesday.

Dawn Brown, a firefighter with the Bristol-Kendall Fire Department and a paramedic with the Big Rock Fire District, was found dead in her home in Big Rock Monday afternoon.

Co-worker Lt. David Denison of the Big Rock Fire District said that Brown and her husband, Bob, had taken the 130- to 140-pound mastiff into their home to prevent it from being put down.

The couple had only had the dog for a week, he said.

“Dawn is — or was — very mother-like. She was just always taking care of everybody. That’s just the way she was. Rather than seeing this dog get put down, she took it on from another family member this week,” Denison said.

“They were just trying to introduce the new dog into the fold.”

Police said the Browns had a boxer and a pit bull mixed breed, as well as the mastiff. The wounds she suffered were caused by the mastiff, police said.

Kane County Animal Control has taken custody of all three dogs.

“The other two (dogs) they’ve had longer,” Kane County Sheriff’s Lt. Pat Gengler said. “The other two were like their children.”

Gengler said Animal Control is still evaluating the three dogs’ temperament to determine what will happen next.

With the two dogs that did not attack, “a lot of it will fall back on her husband to see what he wants,” Gengler said.

He described the mastiff as “all muscle, very intimidating,” but said the dog had no history of being aggressive.

Brown’s husband found her at the bottom of the basement stairs in her home in the 400 block of Jefferson Street in Big Rock, Gengler said. No fall occurred, he added.

Gengler said it is clear that only the mastiff attacked Brown. Bite marks were visible on the body, he said.

“There’s a huge difference in the size of these dogs, a humongous difference,” Gengler said.

It took four officers to get the mastiff under control to remove him from the house, Gengler said.

Brown, 44, was a full-time firefighter/paramedic with the Bristol-Kendall Fire Department and a part-time paramedic for the Big Rock Fire Department.

Gengler said Big Rock paramedics were the first responders and a member of the fire department pronounced her dead at the scene.

Gengler said this is an “extremely difficult, extremely trying time” for the two departments.

Brown’s husband is also a part-time firefighter with the Big Rock department, he said. The couple had no children.

“Bob is with family and friends, he’s taking it very hard,” Denison said.

Big Rock Fire Chief John Ruh said Brown brought the dog into the fire station last Friday, three days before the attack.

“I came into the station and Dawn had the dog with her at her desk,” Ruh recalled. “... I didn’t like having a dog in the station, but I knew Dawn was trying to socialize it, so I didn’t say anything about it. Maybe I should have.”

Ruh, friend and co-worker Rich Dunlap and Brown’s Jefferson Avenue neighbors all said that Jackie and Jimmy, the two other dogs that the Browns had owned for years, could not have attacked her.

“Those dogs were like children to them,” said one neighbor. “They walked (the dogs) around the neighborhood, and they were very gentle. I knew those dogs weren’t capable of something like that.”

“I was stunned when I heard what happened to her,” said Donald Czacher, who lives two doors down from the Browns. “I’ve seen them with their dogs in the back yard, walking them on leashes on the street and taking them to the park. The dogs were always well-behaved.”

Czacher said he saw the Big Rock Fire Protection District ambulance that responded to the scene Monday afternoon, but he thought at the time that Brown had driven her work vehicle home for lunch.

“You hear about things like this, but you never think they will happen near you,” he said.

The Bristol-Kendall and Big Rock fire departments will provide an honor guard for Brown’s ashes at a memorial service scheduled for Saturday at the English Congregational United Church of Christ at Third and Rhodes streets in Big Rock. Though fire engines will be parked in front of the church, there will be no procession, in accordance with Brown’s wishes, Ruh said.

“Dawn was a neighbor and a friend as well as a co-worker,” he said. “She and Bob became firefighters and EMTs together because they were looking to help the community as a couple.

“I’ve never had anything this tragic happen in 36 years as a firefighter. When you get the call that one of your own is in trouble, it’s devastating.”

“She was one of the most caring, selfless people around,” added Dunlap, a Big Rock firefighter and EMT. “She was always happy to help people out. This is truly a tragic loss for our community.”

Correspondent Denise Linke contributed to this story.

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