Firefighting fish takes on the heat in prosecutor's office

Saturday, December 21, 2002

POTOSI, Mo. -- If not for the prosecuting attorney's pet fish, Washington County might be without a courthouse.

Fire broke out early Monday on the second floor of the Southeast Missouri courthouse in the office of prosecutor John Rupp. An overloaded electrical circuit was blamed.

No one was in the building at the time, so the fire could have gone unnoticed until the structure was badly damaged or destroyed.

That's where Rupp's fish -- a neotropical species from Africa called an oscar cichlid -- saved the day. Sort of.

The heat from the blaze became so intense it caused the oversized aquarium that housed the fish to burst. The flood of water from the fish tank extinguished most of the fire.

The remaining smoldering fire was discovered shortly after 5 a.m. by County Clerk Janet Adams. It took firefighters only minutes to extinguish the remaining fire, but there already had been extensive heat, smoke and water damage to portions of the courthouse, particularly Rupp's office.

Rupp said it was nearly two hours after the fire had been extinguished that someone pointed out to him that the fish -- dubbed Oscar -- still was flopping around in the debris on the floor of his office. The prosecutor scooped up the fish and put him in water.

But the rescue was too late. Oscar died the next day.

Rupp doubts it will happen but said the county should consider a monument for the fish that saved the courthouse.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: