Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Art Senteno was the first person to arrive at a house fire called in at 3:06 a.m. Saturday in the 2200 block of Tiger Point Road.
By the time he got there, "flames easily 8 or 9 feet tall were coming over the roof of the house," said Senteno, who has been with the Sheriff's Department for about 17 years.
On the way there, dispatchers had advised responding deputies that a woman said her husband had gone back into the burning home to rescue their dog.
When Senteno got there, he went up to the blazing front door, knocked it over and yelled for anyone inside.
"I heard a faint voice in the back and I had no choice, I had to go in," he said Monday. "I couldn't see more than a foot in front of me."
Holding his arms out in front of him, Senteno said, he crouched low and moved forward until his hands found the man. By that point, the older man was disoriented and kept insisting his wife was somewhere in the home.
"And I thought my father-in-law was stubborn," Senteno joked, explaining he had to force the man out.
Once he succeeded in doing so, the deputy -- who had no protective gear on -- said he went back in for the man's wife but came back out when he felt he was about to run out of air.
"I really thought I was going to pass out at that time," he said "I wanted to at least be close to the door so that my partners could find me."
It turned out the wife had been in the couple's vehicle, which Senteno helped the elderly man into as he told the woman to drive away, he said.
By then, other deputies were on scene and paramedics were arriving with oxygen for the deputy.
Senteno insisted on driving himself to the hospital and was followed by EMS personnel to Scott & White Clinic in Brenham, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and released about 7:15 a.m.
Senteno -- who was back on the job Monday -- said he hasn't spoken with the couple since the fire.
"I'm sure they're angry with me. I forced them to leave their home and their dog, they thought, behind," Senteno said during a phone interview. "He was a frail man but he stood his ground for his puppy. The dog ended up hightailing it out of there on his own."
As a husband and father of two -- a boy, age 8, and a girl, age 6 -- Senteno said should he find himself in the same situation again, he hopes he'll exit the house before he's nearly out of breath.
"The scariest part is finding your way out of there," he said about being inside the smoke-filled home. "You do what you've got to do."
While Senteno may be humble about the fact that he likely saved a man's life, those who work closely with him described his actions as heroic.
Washington County Sheriff's Deputy David Dudenhoeffer wrote an email to his captain explaining why he believed Senteno deserved to be commended for his efforts.
"I feel that Senteno risked his own health and safety to save the life of a 77-year-old male," Dudenhoeffer wrote. "I feel that if Senteno did not take the action that he did, the 77-year-old male would have died."
Copyright 2013 - The Eagle, Bryan, Texas
McClatchy-Tribune News Service