Called to Same Fire, Minneapolis Captain Saves Wife

For two Minneapolis fire captains, it was a life-threatening moment Sunday evening when a river of fire came shooting through a wall in the attic of Walker United Methodist Church, putting them and their crews in mortal danger.

The captains are a husband and wife serving at different fire stations who wound up at the same fire. She said she is grateful to be alive. She was trapped by the fire, and her husband helped rescue her.

Capt. Kathrynne Baumtrog and Capt. Paul Baumtrog were among five firefighters injured in the blaze that destroyed Walker Church. Paul received blisters on his hands, though he's not sure how, and Kathrynne was burned on both arms, on her ears and backside.

He was treated and released, while she will remain at Hennepin County Medical Center for at least two weeks.

Both were interviewed at the hospital Monday night.

"I'm great," she said, when asked how she was feeling. "I'm not dead. I had a pretty good prognosis at the hospital."

She was filling in for a friend while her husband decided to take a call-back to go to work because she was working. She was at Station 5, at E. 27th Street and Bloomington Avenue, and he was at Station 21 at E. 38th Street and Snelling Avenue.

Her engine was sent to investigate an alarm from the church, and she and another firefighter headed upstairs to the northeast tower, she said.

A battalion chief outside could see fire. "We hauled up hose and pressurized extinguishers," Kathrynne said.

Then she saw the fire, a glow in the west wall. It suddenly shot through. "It was like a blowtorch," she said. "It came right at the crews that were working in that area. It hit me good." She was burned, and the crews started to retreat.

But as she tried to exit, she missed a turn. "I was burned so bad, I couldn't focus enough to remove my radio," she said. "I shouted 'Mayday.'"

Unknown to her, she said, her husband was in another crew called to the fire. He knew she was in the attic.

He said he saw the fire erupt. "It rolled over the entire ceiling space. It came directly toward the exit where most of us were standing." He and the other firefighters retreated. "We all thought she had bailed with us."

But when they got down a floor, they realized she was not there, and Paul and several firefighters headed upstairs to find her.

He said he found her. "We have to get of here," he shouted at her. He said he was scared to death -- not for her, because she was alive, but for members of a ladder company also up in the attic, where he thought they might be trapped.

"They came out on their own," he said. "They charged out like a freight train, right through the fire."

Kathrynne Baumtrog, who served two tours in Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard, praised the teamwork of the firefighters on Sunday night. "They did awesome," she said. "We got everybody out of the building alive."

Paul Baumtrog joined the Fire Department in 1979, and she in 1999.

Gary Schiff, Ninth Ward City Council member, went to visit her Monday afternoon and brought her flowers. He said she told him to give the flowers to a nurse taking care of her.

Copyright 2012 - Star Tribune, Minneapolis

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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