LYNNWOOD — Brenda Welch didn’t remember their faces, and she couldn’t recall the words they spoke, encouraging her to fight for her life.
She was unconscious when they picked her up off the floor, pulling her from the burning house. The Lynnwood firefighters and paramedics weren’t sure Welch was going to make it. Her breathing was shallow and labored. Her blonde hair was matted with blood. Welch was badly burned, her body reeking of gasoline.
Lynnwood paramedics raced her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where hours later she underwent surgery for a serious brain injury that erased the memories of what happened inside her ex-husband’s house.
“I’ve been waiting to meet everyone who saved me,” Welch said Friday, standing outside Fire Station 15 in Lynnwood.
Welch and her family were invited to the station to do just that.
It was the first time that the Lake Stevens mom was able to thank the men and women who helped save her life in 2014. Their testimony later helped put her ex-husband in prison for the attack that left Welch scarred.
“The last time I saw you we were carting you off in an ambulance,” Lynnwood Fire Capt. Jason Turner said.
Neighbors spotted the flames eating away at David Morgan’s Lynnwood house. The first fire engine was there within three minutes. Frantic neighbors told firefighters that there might be children inside. Morgan and Welch have a young daughter together.
Lynnwood firefighters and crews from neighboring Fire District 1 ran into the house. They scoured the smoke-filled rooms, searching for signs of life.
Lynnwood Fire Capt. John Puetz, who was first on scene, encountered Morgan lying outside the house. The Lynnwood man eventually pointed to the garage.
Puetz instructed firefighter Scott Russell to check the garage. Russell spotted Welch on the floor. She was unconscious, bloodied, burned and near death.
“She was pretty lifeless when we found her,” Russell said Friday.
He and Melissa Beard, a firefighter with District 1, pulled Welch out of the garage. They laid her on the ground outside. Beard stayed with her.
“I told her we were going to take care of her,” Beard said.
Russell went back into the house, searching for Welch’s daughter, then 6. She had stayed with her dad for the weekend. Firefighters didn’t then know that the girl was with her grandmother, Morgan’s mom.
Firefighters made multiple trips into the burning house. No one else was inside.
Welch was loaded into an ambulance with Lynnwood paramedics Kevin Miller and Josh Peterson. They went to work, and headed south, unsure if their patient would survive the ride.
“I would have died in that garage,” Welch said Friday. “Now I’m safe. He’s not going to hurt me anymore, or my daughter.”
Morgan was sentenced last month to 21 years in prison.
A jury didn’t buy Morgan’s story that he found Welch ablaze after he was clobbered by a stranger who broke into his home. He claimed that he helped Welch out of her burning sweater and fled the house, thinking she was behind him.
Prosecutors alleged that Morgan plotted to kill his ex-wife because he was tired of paying child support. They accused Morgan of dousing Welch with gas, setting her on fire and beating her with a garden tool.
Firefighters and paramedics testified at the trial, walking jurors through the dramatic rescue and their observations of Morgan at the scene. They also provided key evidence about the fire that burned Welch.
Fire investigators were unable to definitively say that the fire was intentionally set, but the firefighters who treated Welch testified that she smelled of gasoline.
“What David Morgan did to Brenda is unfathomable,” Lynnwood police detective Brian Jorgensen said Friday.
The longtime Lynnwood officer was the lead investigator in the case. He spent three days in the burned-out house, searching for evidence to piece together what happened.
In those early days it was unclear if Welch would survive.
She spent nearly two months in the hospital. She’s undergone more surgeries than she can recall. More are in her future.
On Friday, her scars peeked out from her black sundress as she hugged firefighters and paramedics.
“I think she looks fabulous,” said Beard, who volunteers assisting burn victims.
Welch’s strength is inspiring, Jorgensen said. Her recovery speaks volumes to her courage and will to live, he said. It’s good to see her smiling these days.
Welch and two of her daughters were all smiles as they toured part of the city in a fire truck. Puetz helped Welch’s youngest, now 8, spray water from a small fire hose. The girl giggled as the water hit the driveway.
“They’re the reason I lived,” Welch said of the firefighters. “Them and my girls.”