ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson credits team effort and good training with saving four children in Thursday’s Lafayette Square fire.
The fire chief said his men and women had no idea there were children inside the burning apartment building until they found them. He said two of them were hiding in a tent and one child was hiding in a closet. The fourth child was standing in a doorway.
Jenkerson said first responders found the children without seeing or hearing anyone.
“We didn’t know there were children up there,” Jenkerson said. “We went through the normal standard operating procedure and those procedures – those guidelines [are] what saved the children’s lives.”
“They came upon the first child – hey we got one, no we got two, I’ve got another one over here, and it just progressed like that.”
The chief said they relied on their training – hours of practice over the smallest details.
“We tell them, ‘You know, you’re going to continue to do this not until you get it wrong – you’re going to do this until you never, ever get it wrong,” he said.
Jenkerson said this rescue was not unique.
“We do this every day, whether it’s EMS or the fire department bringing people out of overdoses, children having asthma attacks, an accident on the highway,” he said. “We do this stuff every day…but the difference here was there happened to be a photojournalist, a couple really good photojournalists, who caught what we do every day and caught it from a position that really showed the effort, risk, and training of what these firefighters go though and what these EMS workers do.”
The chief said the first responders seen in the dramatic photos don’t want to take credit for what took a team of more than 40.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to a fire,” Jenkerson said. “To say the newest guy on the truck, to make that fire hydrant, to make sure they have water, if he doesn’t do his job, the crew going inside to confine the fire to the front isn’t able to do their job. Thus the people on the rescue side, they’re not able to do their job.”
When you look at those photos of firefighters in extreme heat and heavy equipment, Chief Jenkerson said he can guarantee the first responders didn’t feel that weight and the heat while making the rescue. He said last he heard, all four kids were still in ICU. Firefighters were confident they’d found everyone inside by the time a guardian showed up to confirm there were four children in the home.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office charged 27-year-old Crystal Ford with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the fire. Prosecutors allege Ford left her children unattended for a considerable amount of time.