SPOKANE, Wash. – Only weeks after suffering significant burns, a Spokane Fire Department fireman is back at work Thursday on light duty.
Getting back into the swing of things could not come fast enough for Chuck McKenzie.
“It’s great to be back in the station. It’s great with the guys, but getting back to the job is what I am looking forward to,” he said.
McKenzie said he was excited, nervous, and ready to go and just had mixed emotions. He carried that emotion to his first fire call and it was a big one.
On September 7, Chuck McKenzie threw regard for his own safety to the side to try and save the life of two people inside an apartment on Magnesium Road in North Spokane. McKenzie entered the apartment where the victims were found in an attempt to make a rescue. He was pulling the male victim out when he was hit by flames.
McKenzie said people were trapped and he was trying to turn himself into a shield.
“The guy is right behind me so I didn’t want to move out of the way or it was all going onto him,” he said.
Brian Schaeffer of the SFD said McKenzie then managed to go back in to search for the female victim, despite being badly burned. Both victims died in the fire.
Thursday, McKenzie answered the phones at work for the first time in six weeks.
“Fire station 15, Chuck McKenzie, how can I help you?”
McKenzie kept expressing his gratitude that he was able to make it out alive.
“That’s one thing I am pretty fortunate for,” he said. “My jacket was burned, but I am fortunate that my mask, my face, and everything else is okay. Without that I would be in a really different situation by now.”
Shortly after his team put out the fire, McKenzie realized he was badly burned on his arm. He spent weeks in and out of surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“it feels tight right now,” McKenzie said of his recovery from surgery. “So they cut three pieces off my thigh and it’s one-two-three sowed on so it feels tight and unnatural.”
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.
“I am ready to get back to where I am riding the trucks and going on calls,” McKenzie said.
In a few short weeks, McKenzie will be riding with his brothers and sisters again, ready to get back in action.