Firefighters recall tense first moments after Minnehaha Academy explosion

The Minneapolis firefighters who responded to a gas explosion at Minnehaha Academy Wednesday returned to work Sunday with many fresh memories of the destruction and an overwhelming sense that, despite the circumstances, the blast could have been so much worse.

The explosion killed two people and injured nine more, with Minnehaha Academy's soccer coach remaining in critical condition over the weekend. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the incident, which they believe happened due to a gas leak while moving the school's meter.

It was Captain Brent Bjerkness that was checking the log against dispatch calls that were flooding in, watching in real time as everyone realized just how serious the situation was. 

"There’s a degree of shock that you have when you hear that come over the radio,” Minneapolis Firefighter Michael McGlynn said. 

As they turned the corner on the majority of the destruction, Bjerkness and his partner saw that the majority of the school had collapsed--hoping against hope that nobody had been inside at the time of the blast.

“I think we were all wondering if people were even save-able in the situation," firefighter Chad Juncker said. "I was at the time trying to get the initial hose line on the fire to protect us—because if we can’t protect ourselves we can’t help anyone else.”

Another crew went to check the roof before joining in the fight against the worst of the fire, ultimately tackling the blaze before recovering the two bodies of Minnehaha Academy receptionist Ruth Berg and custodian John Carlson.

For a select few members of that group of first responders who also responded to the 35W bridge collapse 10 years ago, they all said this explosion was a close second.

"It was an incredibly powerful explosion—it moved a tremendous amount of material and it was very tragic that two people died," Captain Douglas Gilbert said. "But of course it could have been a lot worse with school in session.”