ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – A St. Louis firefighter died while battling a fire Thursday.
The fire department received a call around noon on Jan. 13 for a fire at a two-story brick building in the 5900 block of Cote Brilliante. Firefighters were able to knock out the fire on the first floor and made their way to the second floor. The fire got too intense and firefighters decided to get out.
As they were backing out, the roof collapsed, burying two firefighters. One of them was trapped under a "tremendous amount of debris" of heavy timber and bricks and took "the brunt of the collapse to his person." The firefighter was later identified as Benjamin "Ben" Polson.
Polson worked at the St. Louis Fire Department for more than two years, starting in November 2019. He had recently been reassigned to Engine House 13 in the Hamilton Heights Neighborhood.
Firefighter Polson was killed from the collapse and debris, not from the fire. The second firefighter was taken to the hospital. The St. Louis Fire Department later said the second injured firefighter, along with one other, were treated and released from the hospital.
"This kind of event weighs tremendously heavy on the entire fire department," St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said. "We're a closely related department. You can't deal with it. There's no words to describe what the feeling is right now amongst the fire department. Just a terrible situation."
Jenkerson said they're looking into the conditions of the building and what led to the fire and the total collapse, mentioning the department knows some city buildings aren't safe for firefighters to enter. The department, however, always assumes vacant-looking buildings are occupied, as people tend to use them for shelter.
"The St. Louis City Fire Department does a job every day in buildings that many departments consider buildings we shouldn't enter. They made the right decision to 'let's get out' and unfortunately due to the condition of the building, they were caught in the collapse," Jenkerson said.
The house is a total loss. The building to the east of it sustained some damage.
"We get paid to protect lives, to take a risk," Jenkerson said. "We take the risk and unfortunately and terribly, the risk we took today wasn't worth it. We lost a firefighter."
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones tweeted, "St. Louis is mourning the loss of one of our brave @STLFireDept firefighters in the line of duty this afternoon. Our city prays for their family and our entire department after this devastating tragedy."
“This incident is a sobering reminder of the real dangers our first responders face each and every day as they fight to keep our communities safe,” said Chief Ron Battelle, executive director of The BackStoppers. “Losing any first responder is a heartbreak for each of us, but we will make sure they are never forgotten.”
The BackStoppers are assisting with expenses for Firefighter Polson. The non-profit organization assists families of first responders killed in the line of duty or suffered a catastrophic injury. Donations to the organization can be made online here or by calling (314) 692-0200.