The fire at the building on the 900 block of University Avenue West, which has a business on the main floor and residential units upstairs, started just before 3 a.m. on Jan. 10.
When firefighters responded, crews entered the building to fight the fire and do some primary searches, but as conditions changed and firefighters were pulled out to conduct defensive operations, the St. Paul Fire Department said.
During the process of attempting to extinguish the fire, a St. Paul firefighter made a "mayday" call as he struggled to evacuate its basement. Two other firefighters were also unable to be reached by radio during that period. The three firefighters were able to self-extricate before the deployment of a Rapid Intervention Team, according to St. Paul Fire Department Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso.
A witness told FOX 9 that a resident evacuated the building safely. The resident climbed out a second-story window onto the roof of an adjacent building and was helped down by neighbors with an extension ladder, according to Mokosso.
Neighbors recount rescue efforts
Flames engulfed a building, smoke billowed into the air, and residents nearby heard a woman's desperate cries for help.
Juan Taylor, a local resident who assisted in the rescue, described the tense moments. "We went up to his property, walked up his back steps and saw a woman at the end of this building here screaming in her robe and her house shoes," he recounted.
As firefighters tackled the blaze, Taylor and his neighbor rushed to aid a woman who had managed to escape a second-story window and was stranded on an adjacent rooftop. "We told her to jump to us, he sat on one side, I was on the other. He grabbed an arm, I grabbed an arm, and we grabbed her body because she was like frozen. Once she got on the railing, she was frozen, so we had to grab her body and bring her over the railing," Taylor explained.
Meanwhile, firefighters inside the burning building faced their own perilous situation. Deputy Chief Mokosso described a particularly harrowing moment when a firefighter in the basement had to issue a mayday call due to rapidly deteriorating conditions. "You absolutely don't want to call a mayday; you think, 'I can get myself out of this situation.' So when you get to the point where you have to call a mayday, things are serious, and your life is in danger," Mokosso said.
Complicating the situation further, two other crews attempting to assist the trapped firefighter lost communication, prompting the deployment of a Rapid Intervention Team for rescue.
"For the last year, our department has had 36 hours of rapid intervention training, as well as self-extrication training for situations like this. We're fortunate to have had that training in the past year," Mokosso noted.
Fortunately, everyone made it out of the incident without injuries. The building, which had a long history serving as a grocery store, donut shop, adult video store, and residence for many over the years, was quickly demolished following the fire.
FOX 9 is told the fire started in the basement but the cause is not yet clear at this time.
Crews battle a large fire on University Avenue in St. Paul on Jan. 10, 2024.