Spokane police officer helps save man who jumped from window to escape fire

When flames swallowed a home in north central Spokane Tuesday night, firefighters and police got there as soon as they could. The good news is everyone got out safely, but it wasn't easy. We spoke with one Spokane Police Officer who became a hero in the blink of an eye.

Corporal Ron Van Tassel was first on the scene before firefighters even got to the scene near Post and Nora. He helped break the fall of a man who escaped through a second story window.

On Wednesday Van Tassel was back in the Emerson neighborhood. The 11-year veteran with the Spokane Police Department was taking a look at the damage from Tuesday night. Van Tassel happened to be driving by when he noticed something.

"I could see the orange glow coming up from the alley," Van Tassel said.

As he got closer he discovered the house on N. Post was on fire. And he spotted something else: a man leaning out from a second story window.

"He was sitting up in that window up there. One leg out, and his arm waving at me. I couldn't see the rest of his body because the smoke was so thick and black," Van Tassel said.

Immediately he began thinking of how he could help the man get down from the window.

"I was looking around on front porches to see if I could find a couch or a mattress or a ladder real quick and I couldn't see anything...He already started climbing out the window," Van Tassel said. "It was more of a reaction, just help, grab on to him and try to just ease him to the ground as best as possible."

Before Van Tassel could find a suitable safety net for him, an electrical wire exploded behind the house, spooking the man stuck upstairs. Without waiting, he began to ease himself out of the window, an onlooker shouting to catch him. 

"If you're going to go, I'll catch you," Van Tassel said, reaching his arms up. However, when the man dropped, most of his weight was not caught by the officer, and he hit the ground hard.

"He kind of hung on to the window sill and dangled his body down, then just let go and slammed down into the front yard here," Van Tassel said.

He says they don't train for situations like this, it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time.

"It's just a reaction thing. We get training just to help people and do what we can. Sometimes it's nothing and other times we're able to do little things. To us it doesn't seem like a big deal," Van Tassel said.

Update: This situation was featured in Season 31, Episode 8 of the show COPS and can be viewed in full. Some details of this story were updated with further info.

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