Minn. Firefighters Rescue Man, Child at Apartment Fire

St. Paul crews deployed a thermal imaging camera to locate two people trapped in the fire.


April 25--Firefighters and emergency room doctors who rushed to an apartment fire may have made a life-or-death difference for an unconscious father and his toddler son.

The pair were pulled from the bathroom of their apartment after firefighters doused the flames Friday morning, officials said.

The blaze, sparked by an electrical space heater left too close to a couch, broke out at 10:19 a.m. in a third-floor apartment in the 12-unit building in the 1800 block of East Seventh Street, said St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard.

The Regions Medical Center emergency room doctors were a few streets away when they heard the call, rushed to the fire and beat the ambulance crews to the scene. They are part of a team that works with the St. Paul Fire Department responding to emergency calls.

By the time father and son were pulled from the building, the doctors had their equipment ready to treat the patients.

"They were rescued right away, and having ER physicians on scene meant they received the best care they could have, giving them the best possible chance of survival," Zaccard said.

"A 30- to 60-second delay could've been a whole different story," said Dr. Bjorn Peterson, one of the Regions doctors who responded. "Yes, being here made a difference. Professionally and personally it is very satisfying, but more than that I just hope the family is OK."

When firefighters brought the victims out, both were unresponsive, said Regions spokeswoman Ashley Burt.

The child, Fred Stewart Jr., 3, became responsive on scene, but his father, Fred Stewart Sr., did not. Father and son were listed in fair condition Friday afternoon, Burt said.

Trawanda Harris, 19, said her little brother, Fred, 3, was eating and drinking, but was still hooked up to an IV and using oxygen. The elder Stewart was sedated and unable to talk Friday afternoon, Harris said.

"When they are unresponsive, every minute counts in getting them back," Burt said.

In Friday's fire, firefighters were on scene, put out the flames within moments and found the victims right after, Zaccard said.

Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith said that the fire broke out near the front door and that using a thermal imaging camera saved firefighters time in locating father and son, who had retreated into the bathroom and succumbed to the smoke.

"Using that lets them quickly distinguish between a body and a pile of clothing," Smith said. "It makes a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to find somebody."

A neighbor, Rose Eichele, said the child's mother was at the grocery store when the blaze broke out. "The mother had just come home and walked up and went straight to her baby, more stunned than anything," she said.

Neighbors ran through the building, knocked on doors, and screamed for other people to get out of the building.

"I went upstairs saying 'Where's the baby?' but the smoke was too strong, it was black smoke and I'm pregnant and was worried breathing the smoke would hurt my baby," said Melisa Moe, who lives on the second floor. "We were yelling for them to break the window to get out."

Yolanda Cyrus went door to door, alerting tenants on the second floor. "At first people didn't believe me and waited a little bit before they came out," she said.

Burt said a unit within the hospital monitors emergency calls, then dispatches the ER team to calls where they think the doctors can help most.

"I do believe it made a difference to be on scene," Peterson said.

Peterson and Dr. R.J. Frascone were awarded the Meritorious Service Award last year for going into a burning building to provide care for a victim.

"The patient had no pulse and wasn't breathing," Burt said. "Dr. Frascone directed life-saving efforts while Dr. Peterson put a tube into her windpipe and a firefighter performed CPR in order to get her breathing again. After five-minutes, she had a pulse."

Friday's fire was confined to the one apartment, Zaccard said.

Harris said she lost all her belongings in the fire.

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