ST. LOUIS – An early-morning vacant home fire was frighteningly similar to one that cost a firefighter’s life nearly two years ago. That tragedy resulted in a new safety resource that the fire department said worked Thursday.

Remarkably, firefighters were even faster as they found themselves in the middle of a rescue almost simultaneously with a safety alert.

In the midst of a burning home near Natural Bridge and Union, we watched a valiant response from St. Louis firefighters. They did not get a call; rather, they responded to smoke they could see from their Engine Company 24 fire house. 

Fire Captain Garon Mosby said, “The first arriving officer felt that he had time to get in there and do a quick search. Obviously, these do not start by themselves.”

Capt. Mosby said the second floor partially collapsed on the firefighter, who caught himself.  He explained, “Instinctively, you spread out, which is what he did. We always work in teams, so there were other firefighters with him, and we made a radio call that we had a down firefighter, helped him and got him to safety.”

The resulting minor injuries reportedly did not even stop the firefighter from returning to action.

Some developments Thursday were hauntingly familiar of the January 2022 North St. Louis fire that cost the life of 33-year-old Ben Polson. He was also checking for possible life inside, and he was also on the second floor, but he did not survive a collapse.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson then made it his mission to have every vacant home inspected and to give his men and women another safety resource.

Shortly after Polson’s death, the chief walked us through a vacant home lined street to show us what they’d be looking to put into a dispatch database.

Jenkerson pointed out, “Something as simple as this set of concrete steps on the front. How viable are those? When firefighters walk up on the front porch, will that front porch collapse on them?”

He added, “Look at the side of this building here. You’ve got bricks, you’ve got a course of bricks that’s totally missing. Pretty indicative that you’re going to have a failure right above the fireplace.”

The database did reveal Thursday’s vacant home as a risk. Captain Mosby says the warning system worked. Firefighters did get a call about dangers identified, but first responders were so quick, having entered the home before even dispatch knew. They were already in rescue mode when they got that information call. Captain Mosby said it could have averted a more dire result.

Mosby said, “It’s just another tool to give our officers, the first arriving companies. Something to put in their mind in evaluating and deciding what we can safely do.”