Spokane firefighter badly burned in rescue attempt

Injured firefighter recovering at Harborview

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Spokane Fire Department continues to investigate an apartment fire that happened on Wednesday, killed two people and severely injured a firefighter.

The Rosewood Apartments located on Magnesium Road in North Spokane caught fire around 4:00 p.m. The cause of the fire remains unclear at this time. Officials said the two victims were smokers. They believe smoking in bed, smoking materials under the bed and an overloaded power strip may be a factor in the fire.

Officials have not identified the two people who died, but did identify the firefighter as Charles "Chuck" McKenzie, 29. He suffered second and third degree burns to his shoulders and was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said his injuries will require surgeries and skin grafts. They are confident he will recover and eventually return to work.     

Fire officials said McKenzie had entered the apartment where the victims were found in an attempt to make a rescue. McKenzie was pulling the male victim out of the unit when he was hit by the flames. Schaeffer said McKenzie then managed to go back in to search for the female victim, even though he had been badly burned.

Schaeffer said he then met with McKenzie and noticed his gear was steaming and his helmet had melted. He was then immediately sent to a paramedic for treatment. 

McKenzie is a recruit for the Spokane Fire Department. He was two weeks away from completing his one year probationary period with Fire Station 18. Officials said what happened to him could have happened to anyone. 

Coming into the fire academy with volunteer experience from Moscow, Idaho and being an Air Force Veteran, Schaeffer said in this instance, it was not a matter of skill, but rather the fire behavior that hurt one of their own.

McKenzie took to Facebook to thank everyone for their support.

McKenzie's dad, Steve, said his son is in good spirits and has had a few visitors from the Seattle Fire Department.  His family describes him as a proud uncle and someone who would risk his life to save others, that is why he got into firefighting. 

Allie Raye was a witness to the fire, she said crews were quick to the scene.

“Firemen were on the roof right at the fire,” she said. “Right there in the smoke and the flames.”

Fire officials said it started on the second floor of the apartments where they found the two victims they thought they could save.

“You only have a few seconds if that to make the decision,” Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. “In this case they thought they had a savable life. They risked their lives, that’s their profession,” he said.

“That’s what we do.”

At least 24 apartments were scorched in the flames leaving a lot of people looking for a place to stay.

Officials did say McKenzie was in good spirits despite his condition.

(© 2016 KREM)


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