September 3, 2009 in Washington Voices

Medical Lake officer honored for fire rescue

Chris Johnston entered burning house to warn occupants
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Medical Lake police Officer Chris Johnston received an award for saving three people in a house fire.
(Full-size photo)

Volunteers needed

The Medical Lake Fire Department is looking for new trainees for its all-volunteer force. Prior experience is helpful but not required. Training will include structural and wildland firefighting, emergency medical services, and ice and water rescue. For more information, call the Medical Lake Fire Department at (509) 565-5022 or visit www.medical-lake.org.

The Medical Lake Police Department and Fire Department have presented Officer Chris Johnston with a medal and certificate of appreciation for running into a burning house to save two children, one adult and several pets.

In the early hours of June 27, Johnston was driving back from Airway Heights after assisting with a domestic violence case. He noticed smoke hanging in the air, but since the air was calm he couldn’t tell from which direction the smoke was coming.

After cruising through neighborhoods, making wider circles as he went, he ended up in Reinking Field, where he noticed a house on fire. He called the Fire Department and headed to the house.

When he got there, he noticed cars in the driveway and figured there were people inside. He said he had seen the movie “Backdraft” and didn’t want flames bursting out at him when he opened the door.

“I put my hand on the door to see if it was hot,” he said.

It wasn’t, so he kicked in the door.

The smoke inside the house was hovering from his chest up to the ceiling. He crouched and found two young boys sleeping in the living room. His yells woke the boys, and they were able to get out of the house.

In one of the first-floor bedrooms, he found a man sleeping. The two picked up the family pets and got them out of the house.

There was some confusion about whether or not the man’s daughter was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. He and Johnston tried several times to get upstairs to her bedroom, but the man remembered that she was spending the night with some friends.

“It was a huge relief for me to know that everybody was out,” Johnston said.

Johnston said that his police training had helped him keep a cool head, but he has never had any training on how to approach a burning building.

Once firefighters arrived, he told them what to expect when they went inside the house. He then switched back to his role as a police officer, directing traffic and keeping motorists from driving over the fire hoses.

The family that lives in the house declined to be interviewed.

Johnston has been with the Medical Lake Police Department for two years. Before that, he was a journeyman motorcycle mechanic. His grandfather and father were also police officers. At the age of 35, he knew he wasn’t getting any younger. If he was going to be a police officer he had to do it then.

He went through police academy and decided that he would join the first police force that would hire him. That was Medical Lake, and he said that he has never regretted the decision.

“This is a great community,” he said. “You get to know the people around you.”

He said he has applied with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office hoping he can get a job there when the county begins contracting police services with Medical Lake, but there is no guarantee.

For now, he is just happy knowing no one in the house was hurt that night.

“I was a human,” he said. “I saw a house on fire.”


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