'He Could Not Wait to Be a Father': Dad-to-be Dies in House Fire After 8-Months Pregnant Wife Tried to Rescue Him Three Times

Pregnant Woman, Kat Zuhlke, Tries to Rescue Husband from House Fire in Indiana
The fire in Indianapolis
PhotoTac.com

03/06/2016 AT 03:45 PM EST

An Indiana woman due to give birth in two weeks managed to escape from her burning home and then tried three times to rescue her husband, but the fire was too intense and she couldn't reach him, PEOPLE confirms. Her husband was pronounced dead later that day.

Steve Zuhlke, 51, died Friday after the early-morning fire at his Indianapolis home, Pike Township Deputy Fire Chief Chris Bachman tells PEOPLE. His wife, Kat Zuhlke, was released from the hospital after being checked; both she and the unborn baby are physically okay, he says. She is expecting the couple's first child in mid-March, according to a statement from the Murat Shriners charity organization, where Steve was a long-time member and "one of the Murat's hardest workers."

"He could not wait to be a father," the Shriners said in the statement.

Nobles, it is with a heavy heart that we share this news:The Nobles and Brothers of Murat Shrine are morning the loss...

Posted by Murat Shriners onĀ Friday, March 4, 2016


Though much of the couple's brick, ranch-style home was severely damaged in the fire, the nursery was mostly intact, Bachman says.

"You can see how they had everything set up," he adds. "The bags packed, the note of everything they needed to do before they left for the hospital, new baby toys still in packages."

Now Kat will face parenthood without her husband. "She's going to go through that alone now," Bachman says. "That child is never going to meet his or her father."

'She tried to get to him three different times'

According to Bachman, the fire broke out in the early morning hours Friday, when Kat awoke in the master bedroom to the smell of smoke. The fire chief added that the couple may have been in separate rooms because "she was not sleeping well." She tried to go down the hallway to the living room, where she believes her husband was asleep on the couch, but heavy smoke prevented her from reaching him, Bachman says.

Kat made it back to the bedroom and climbed out the window to the ground, then ran to the garage door and took a few steps into the kitchen but it was "full of fire" and she was forced back, he says. She next ran around to the back of the house, where she and a neighbor broke out the sliding glass door that leads to the living room, Bachman says.

"It's completely filled with smoke," he explains. "They can't get to the couch to get to him."

In all, he says, Kat "tried to get to him three different times."

When firefighters arrived about 3:30 a.m., they found Steve Zuhlke unresponsive on the couch. He was taken to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was pronounced dead. He most likely died of smoke inhalation, though an investigation remains underway, according to Bachman. Kat told firefighters that he had been out with friends and returned around midnight.

The cause of the fire is under investigation but it appears to have started in the kitchen.

"We can't rule out all the electrical appliances at the point or the electrical circuits in the kitchen," Bachman says. "There's nothing considered suspicious."

Those who've escaped fires should ensure 911 has been called

While Bachman said it's a natural impulse to do "everything you can to get to them," people who've gotten outside should remain there for their own safety and await firefighters.

"At that point, you are putting your life at risk when you try to go back into a burning home," he says.

"She's lucky she wasn't injured," Bachman adds. "The best thing you can do is make sure 911 has been contacted."
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