Deputy, off-duty police officer save 11-year-old from fiery crash

GRAHAM, Wash. — First came the crash. Then the inferno.

“Suddenly, there’s this whoosh and the distinct sound of fire starting, and I heard someone yell ‘fire,’” said Todd Rossi, a commander with the Tukwila Police Department.

On Saturday, Rossi was off-duty, running errands with his wife, when they pulled up on a crash along 224th Street East in Graham.

Rossi asked his wife to call 911 and ran to a car that had just been rear-ended at high speed.

A mother was behind the wheel, worried about her 11-year-old daughter in the back seat.

Rossi, a retired Army ranger with 16 years experience as a medic, was assessing the mom when the fire began.

“It was pretty intense, there were flames in the car and flames on the ground,” he said.

The girl’s door was stuck closed and she was caught in her booster seat.

“I had my knife on me. Took a couple stabs to the window and was able to cut the seat belt and free her legs from the front passenger seat,” Rossi said.

Firefighters arrived in less than three minutes.

But the flames were so intense, they say Rossi pulled her out through the window just in time.

“It would have been too late by the time we got there,” said Mike Fortier, the battalion chief with Graham Fire and Rescue who responded to the call.

Commander Rossi had help in the rescue, from many citizens, and from Deputy Wiggins of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, who was on patrol in the area.

Deputy Wiggins grabbed a fire extinguisher and fought back the flames as Commander Rossi rescued the girl.

“Those guys are our heroes right now, I’ll tell you that,” Fortier said.

“It was a God thing, it was being in the right place at the right time,” Rossi said.

He didn’t plan to drive home that way, but made a last second change when traffic suddenly opened, allowing him to make a right turn.

The mother and daughter were brought to Tacoma General and Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital with serious injuries.

Because of privacy laws, their current condition is not known.