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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Firefighters rescue girl from seat belt’s grip

Seat belts may save lives, but a 7-year-old Spokane Valley girl learned the hard way that fingers are best left unbuckled.

Firefighters had to rescue the girl last week from a seat belt buckle with the grip of a pit bull terrier.

Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Clifford said Spokane Valley firefighters were called to the 11200 block of East 22nd Avenue on the afternoon of April 23 when the girl latched a finger of her left hand.

Firefighters cut the belt out of the car and tried their usual tricks for kids with fingers in the wrong place. But lubricant and an ice pack to relieve swelling didn’t work, Clifford said.

So firefighters used a drill-mounted grinder to cut away the buckle.

The call was among 185 in the reporting week that ended Wednesday night.

Eight structure fires ranged from tragic to whimsical.

Norma J. Wenrick, 67, died about 3 p.m. last Saturday when her single-wide mobile home at 4115 N. Canal Road was destroyed by fire. Capt. Jeff Bordwell said firefighters entered the home quickly, having been told someone was inside, but Wenrick had already succumbed to intense heat and smoke.

Neighbors had tried to rescue Wenrick, but were driven back by the heat and smoke, Bordwell said.

Clifford said investigators suspect the fire was caused by combustible materials too close to a pellet stove, but they couldn’t be sure because of the severity of the damage.

A day earlier, about 5:40 p.m., firefighters were called to Dickson Iron and Metal Salvage, 907 N. Dyer Road, where a trackhoe and some tires and other debris were burning. The salvage yard was closed at the time.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation late this week, and the extent of damage to the specialized tractor hadn’t been determined.

No one was injured Monday afternoon when cooking oil left unattended on a stove set fire to a duplex at 10703 E. Nora Ave.

Clifford said the only person in that side of the duplex was a woman who was distracted from her cooking project by a litter of six three-day-old boxer puppies. The woman, the pups and three adult boxers all got out safely.

Another dog escaped injury Tuesday when its home caught fire. Firefighters found a “medium-size” doghouse still burning in a backyard at 8605 E. Cataldo Ave. when they arrived about 4:45 a.m.

The dog’s landlord had partially extinguished the blaze, which didn’t threaten any other structures, Clifford said.

The cause was familiar to firefighters: a heat lamp in a house too small for one.

“We respond a few times a year on stuff like that,” Clifford said.

Four reports of vehicle fires yielded only one actual fire, in the engine of a Mead School District bus Monday afternoon at the corner of Argonne Road and Lacrosse Avenue. Clifford said the bus driver safely evacuated students from the bus and extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived.

A school district mechanic determined diesel leaking in the engine compartment was ignited by a turbocharger, Clifford said.

In other calls, firefighters responded to 143 medical emergencies, 11 automatic alarms that were false or minor, one illegal yard-waste fire and 13 vehicle accidents that sent six people to hospitals with injuries that weren’t life-threatening.

Four calls for general service included the girl snagged in her seat belt, a 2-year-old locked inside a car and a couple of water leaks, including a broken main Monday in the 11800 block of East Boone Avenue.

John Craig may be contacted at
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