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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Firefighter’s wife rescues own family

The wife of a firefighter rescued their three sleeping children Tuesday night from the couple’s burning home in the Ponderosa neighborhood of Spokane Valley.

Rachelle Flatt noticed flames on the back patio and called 911 just after 9:30 p.m. Flames reached a propane tank attached to the outside grill before she could get her children out of the house.

“I was almost to the (front) door when the slider door exploded,” she said.

The tank’s valve blew open and shattered a set of patio doors and pushed flames into the house, said Fire District 8 Assistant Chief Greg Godfrey.

When Flatt reached the front door with her 3-year-old daughter, she found neighbors there to hand her to. Flatt went back inside for her 15-month-old daughter, then back again for her 6-year-old son. By that time the smoke was so thick the house was pitch black. Carrying her son, Flatt groped her way down the hallway, then fumbled with the front door that had shut behind her when she re-entered the house.

“That’s when I really started to panic,” she said. “I was running out of air.”

Her neighbors opened the door to let them out.

Her husband, Pete Flatt, was on duty miles away at District 8’s South Hill station when the address came up on his pager. “It took me a second to realize it was my address,” he said Wednesday. “My heart just dropped.”

Flatt was able to reach his wife on the phone before he arrived at his burning house.

Until last week he had worked at the District 8 station only a few blocks away. “I knew they were in good hands,” he said. “I train and work with these guys all the time.”

Rachelle Flatt suffered minor burns, but the children were uninjured.

Flatt is glad his wife responded so quickly in a tough situation. “She’s a hero,” he said. “She saved our three kids.”

The family cat and one dog survived the fire. But one of their dogs, an 80-pound mixed breed known affectionately as Hank the Tank, was faithful to the end. “He followed me back to my son’s room and didn’t make it out,” said Rachelle Flatt, choking back tears. “He was the most patient with our kids. He was a good boy.”

The house sustained an estimated $100,000 in damage, but it was insured. In the meantime, they’re being helped by family and friends, Pete Flatt said.

“We’ve got tons of support. It’s overwhelming,” he said.

After a day of combing through their ruined house, the couple stood on the front porch late Wednesday. Pete Flatt wrapped an arm around his wife and looked down at her with pride. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said. “I just did what I had to do.”