An Indianapolis Freemason, WBro. Steve Zuhlke, passed away in a tragic house fire last week. He was just 51 years old, and his beautiful wife Kat barely made it out of the house alive herself that night. She tried several times to get back into the burning home to save Steve, but the fire was too intense. It is likely he had already died at that point anyway, from smoke inhalation. It's a heartbreaking story.
But there's an added factor that makes this story even worse. You see, Kat is literally just a few short days away from giving birth to their child.
From an article posted March 6th on the People Magazine website:
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.
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.
Steve's memorial service was tonight at Murat Shrine, and his funeral will be Saturday. He was a four-time Master of Pentalpha Lodge No. 564, and he was an enthusiastic Mason and Shriner. Steve always was the first to jump into a project or to help with anything that needed doing. The night before his death, he made dinner for the members of his lodge. He was excited and so looking forward to the birth of his new baby who will now never know him. There were well over 120 Masons at the service tonight.
As I took my place in the long line to give my own respects to Kat, she looked exhausted and bewildered. The sheer number of people who all just wanted to say "I'm here to help," must have been daunting. I wondered, briefly, if the stress of the evening might even induce her labor, as she is literally due any day now. Yet, despite the evening's outpouring of love and respect from everyone, and all of those Masons who were there for her, I couldn't help but think of how completely alone she must feel right now. I can't even fathom it .
I rarely ask readers of this blog to consider donating to a cause, but this is very personal for those of us who knew Steve. A memorial fund has been established for Kat Zuhlke and their unborn child. If you are the check writing sort, donations may be sent to: Steve Zuhlke Memorial Fund, PO Box 936, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.
In addition, an online GoFundMe site has been set up for them HERE. That makes it faster and easier to give and help them. If you can help, please take a moment and give what you can.
Just before giving birth, Kat was informed that their house is a total loss, and that it must be demolished. She has lost everything.
Last week, the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite granted Kat a check from the Grand Almoners' Fund to help her cover immediate expenses. (When the AASR's "blue envelope" program sends you an appeal for money each year, this is the kind of places your assistance goes.
Please remember Kat and little Leona in your prayers and take a few moments to contribute to the GoFundme site.