Gresham, OR, Firefighter Remains Critical Weeks after Flashover

June 12, 2024
Firefighter Spencer Tejedas, who suffered burns to 45 percent of his body, remains intubated, Gresham Chief Scott Lewis said.

Sujena Soumyanath


When Melea Tejedas decided to break things off with Spencer Tejedas in 2014, they had been dating for only a few months. She was falling for him, but her father was terminally ill.

“I told Spencer, ‘I think we need to end this, it’s still early and this is a lot for you to manage,’” Melea Tejedas recalled.

But Spencer wasn’t prepared to give up on their relationship. He stayed by her side and supported her through her father’s illness.

Four months later, he proposed.

“He’s the kind of guy who will not run away from what most people will, and that is exactly why he is where he is right now,” Melea Tejedas said.

The Gresham firefighter, a father of two and Melea’s husband of eight years, is being treated at Legacy Oregon Burn Center for burns covering almost half of his body.

Spencer Tejedas, 33, and two other firefighters rushed into a burning Gresham duplex two weeks ago after hearing that a disabled child was trapped inside, Gresham Fire Chief Scott Lewis said Tuesday. In a rush to save the child, who ended up not being in the residence, the team entered the burning building before a hose line was put in place.

Once the firefighters were inside, the blaze unexpectedly accelerated in what Lewis called a “flashover.” The flames reached more than 1,000 degrees, so hot that the heat burned Tejedas’ skin through his uniform.

“I’ve had firefighters get hurt but none as bad as Spencer,” said Lewis, who has been a firefighter for 41 years.

When Spencer Tejedas finally emerged from the flames, more than 45% of his body was burned, and he was taken to the hospital in critical condition, according to a Gresham Fire Department statement. The still-unresponsive firefighter underwent a third surgery Monday morning and will likely spend weeks in the hospital, Melea Tejedas said.

The other two firefighters survived with minor injuries, the fire department said.

Jack Pilarksi, a friend and fellow firefighter, went into the burning duplex alongside Spencer Tejedas. He said when they heard reports of someone stuck inside, there was no hesitation about entering.

“You’re just focused on the fact that there’s someone in there that needs your help,” said Pilarski, who emerged from the blaze with burns along his ears and shoulders. “Spencer is the absolute embodiment of that.”

Spencer Tejedas started his career at the U.S. Forest Service, where he was trained in wildland firefighting, his wife said.

In 2020, he turned to city firefighting. The couple wanted to have kids, and wildland firefighting’s long stints away from home made family life difficult, Melea Tejedas said.

Spencer Tejedas loves the outdoors – including hunting and fishing, Melea Tejedas said. He also enjoys woodworking, even pursuing it as a side business for a while. Most of all, he “loves being a dad, that’s his number-one favorite thing,” she said.

He also loves being a firefighter; he felt a calling to the profession.

She still remembers the spring day her husband found out he had been accepted into the Gresham Fire Department.

“He dropped the phone and we started dancing in the living room,” Melea Tejedas said. “It was one of the best days.”

Four years later, the firefighting community is rallying around Spencer Tejedas and his family.

Melea Tejedas, who stays with Spencer in the hospital for about 12 hours every day, said “there’s an army of firefighters and first responders checking in on us constantly.”

Supporters also set up a GoFundMe for Melea Tejedas and the couple’s two boys, ages four and one. Melea Tejedas said she’s received cards from people around the country.

Kevin Larson, president of the union that represents Gresham firefighters, described what happened to Spencer Tejedas as something “we’ll never get over.”

“We live with each other for a third of our lives,” and so firefighters became “a family,” he said.

With months of rehab likely ahead for her husband, Melea Tejedas said the future is “terrifying because it’s unknown.”

What gets her through is a belief that her husband will recover, that he’ll do whatever he has to do.

Melea Tejedas remembers how, 10 years ago, he proposed to her in front of her ailing dad – a day before her father died. One chapter of her life was closing, but another was just beginning.

That chapter, the story of her and Spencer’s lives together, still has many, many pages to be written, she knows.

“There is nobody that has a strong drive like my husband,” she said. “I know he is going to do everything he can — and beyond — to overcome the odds.”

– Sujena Soumyanath is a reporter on The Oregonian/OregonLive’s public safety team. You can reach her at 503-221-4309 or [email protected]

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