'Sometimes you feel a little helpless': First responders recount Minnehaha Academy gas explosion

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A crew of contractors were at work somewhere near the boiler room in the central section of Minnehaha Academy Upper School when a gas leak at least partially fed a large explosion and subsequent fire, killing one staff member while one remains missing, according to city officials.

In the wake of tragedies, stories often emerge of the acts of heroism undertaken by first responders--the people who jump into action when most people are running away from the incident. 

Wednesday the public got a view into the minds of these officers and firefighters as they held a press conference to talk about their experiences candidly with reporters and bystanders.

The first few officers to the scene arrived before the explosion occurred, running past an injured contractor who told them about two victims in the area--only one of whom they were able to save. 

The woman, who was standing just feet from first responders when the the explosion hit, was later identified by the school as Ruth Berg. She was a receptionist who had worked at Minnehaha Academy for 17 years at the time of the incident.

"We have a general idea of where everything happened, but it’s just a general area," Officer Daniel McDonald, one of the first people to the scene, said. "[Where she was standing] was likely where the gas leak was because that’s where the flames were shooting out of."

Without school in session, all the first responders agreed the incident could have been so much worse--though that didn't diminish the gravity of the things they saw. 

"When you were in the school searching you would get to a point where things were unrecognizable," McDonald said. "Sometimes it makes you feel a little helpless."