By Ann Rowland
An explosion in a building on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day morning had firefighters battling flames that rose 20 feet into the air from the second and third story windows. The building housed a grocery store and ten apartment units, as well as other businesses and organizations. Firefighters knew that this was not a typical fire when they heard fire dispatch over the radio saying “….start more ambulances…we have more victims around….people are jumping out of windows now…”
The 3-alarm fire sent 55 firefighters to the scene. In an exclusive interview with KTSP- 5, Minneapolis, some of those firefighters who were first to arrive on the scene recalled a chaotic scene that was like nothing they had ever seen before. Captain Joe Mattison referred to the scene as a “war zone” with bodies in the street, people jumping from windows and flames throughout the entire building.
Firefighter Anthony Buchanan told KTSP “When I got off the rig, I saw a patient that had actually already jumped of the second floor. That person did not have any legs.” Fellow firefighter Jerry White recalls “There was a lot of fire coming out of the second and third story windows. There was a lot of debris in the street and the first thing I saw was a gentleman hanging out of the window.”
Despite the chaos that they encountered, the firefighter’s training quickly took over. “At the moment, you’re not thinking. You’re just reacting to what’s in front of you. We had firefighters knowing that they needed to go inside that building. The volume of fire that there was, they needed to get inside there and search for any victims,” Mattison said.
Firefighters began a search of the building for any victims but after fifteen minutes of battling the fire from the inside on the first floor, they were forced to evacuate due to safety concerns. They continued to fight the fire from the outside, taking a defensive approach.
Fourteen people were injured, including some critically with injuries ranging from burns to trauma, possibly from falling from windows to escape the flames. It is believed that two people are still missing or unaccounted for. At this time, they do not have a cause for the explosion.
In addition to battling the flames, the frigid temperatures posed the additional risk of frostbite and hypothermia for the firefighters. “We risk a lot to save a life,” Mattison said.