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Man may have set deadly trap for firefighters

Spokane Valley firefighters are investigating whether a man tried to kill them by blowing up an oven when they responded to his call for help last month.

“Our expectation is that they call us because they want us to be there,” said Dave Lobdell, assistant chief of the Spokane Valley Fire Department. “We don’t expect to become targets when we get to the scene.”

The 35-year-old man called emergency crews to his house in the 15000 block of East Rich Avenue on Sept. 23, according to court records. When they arrived, they found he had slit his wrists with a pocketknife.

After the crews had sent him to Sacred Heart Medical Center, an aerosol can of carburetor cleaner exploded in the oven. A firefighter was in the home picking up equipment when the explosion occurred, according to court documents. He was not hurt, but officials believe he would have been injured or killed if vapors from the can had caught fire or if he had been standing closer to the oven.

“If it had ignited, it probably would have been catastrophic, if not fatal,” Lobdell said.

Attempts to reach the man for comment have been unsuccessful. Neighbors report that he has not been back to the house since the incident.

Lobdell said the man was cognizant at the scene but did not warn firefighters about the can heating in the oven. Court documents say the man called for emergency help and was the only person who could have placed the can in the oven.

“Certainly he had every opportunity to alert them of any hazard they were facing, but he didn’t do it,” Lobdell said.

At the scene, the man told a responder he heard voices instructing him “to cut his wrists to ease his pain,” court records say. Later he told Clifton Mehaffey, the department’s fire inspector, in a telephone conversation that he did not remember placing the can in the oven, the documents state.

Lobdell said the event serves as a reminder to firefighters to not get complacent.

“We do have a saying that there are no routine calls,” he said.