A St. Louis firefighter died early this afternoon battling a fire in a vacant two-and-a-half-story brick building in the 5900 block of Cote Brilliante in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood.
St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson told media at the scene that two firefighters entered the blaze to make sure that there was no one was trapped inside.
When firefighters were on the top floor "they made the decision [to] back out, the fire's getting too intense," Jenkerson said. "As they were backing out the... third-floor roof area totally collapsed, burying two entry firefighters."
One firefighter was killed in the collapse. Jenkerson said he was buried under a "tremendous amount of debris." Another firefighter was injured trying to get his colleague out.
The deceased firefighter has been identified as Benjamin "Ben" Polson. More details about Polson weren't immediately available.
Jenkerson said that the city fire department "does their job every day in buildings that many departments consider buildings that we shouldn't enter. We know that people use these homes to stay warm. We know that people use these to provide protection against the different environments. We go in and take a look."
Sandra Hamilton lives next door to the house that caught fire. She said that "a whole bunch of people" wander in and out of and stay overnight at the house. She said that this has been going on for years, though it has become somewhat less common in recent weeks.
Hamilton said she evacuated her home safely, but that by the time she was outside she could see the flames jumping from the house on fire to hers.
"The whole west side was on fire," she said, about her own home.
Hamilton's sister, Connie Benson, lives on the second floor and said she is going to have to stay elsewhere until her roof is repaired.
By 4 p.m., the city's Building Division was on the scene boarding up the front door of the house that had been gutted by flames. Cedric Hamilton, a supervisor with the Building Division, said that there was too much debris on the back side of the house to board up its missing doors and windows.
"These are old buildings with three- and four-course bricks," Jenkerson said. "There's a lot weight, a lot of heavy timber."
"The fire department is a huge family," Jenkerson said. "This kind of event weighs tremendously heavy on the entire department.
Hamilton said her former sister-in-law once lived at the house that caught fire but has since moved to Arkansas.
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