ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis firefighter died Thursday and another was injured after a large house collapsed while the firefighters were searching to make sure no one was inside.
Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the blaze broke out before noon at a 2 1/2-story structure in north St. Louis. It wasn’t clear if the home was vacant, and because homeless people often stay in vacant houses to keep warm in the winter, firefighters went into the burning building.
The firefighters extinguished the blaze on the first floor and went to the second, but the flames there were so intense they decided to leave, Jenkerson said. As the two firefighters were about to exit the second floor, the roof and upper floor of the brick home collapsed on top of them.
The firefighter who died was identified as Benjamin Polson, who had been with the department since November 2019, fire officials said.
Jenkerson said Polson “was trapped under a tremendous amount of debris until we dug him out.”
The second firefighter was injured from the initial collapse and while trying to rescue Polson, Jenkerson said. His condition wasn’t immediately known.
“We get paid to protect lives. We get paid to take a risk and, you know, it’s hard to tell somebody on the street who is yelling and screaming at us that there might be someone in there, well this risk might be too great,” Jenkerson said. “So we take the risk and unfortunately, terribly the risk we took today wasn’t worth it. We lost a firefighter.”
The fire damaged several nearby homes. The cause has not been determined.