Nurse rescued tenants from fast-spreading fire at Central Hillside in Duluth – Reuters

DULUTH — Paul Brown, a registered nurse for Essentia Health, was attending a rally with other striking members of the Nurses Association of Minnesota on Wednesday night when he smelled something that didn’t seem right.

“I thought I smelled smoke, and because of that, I had trouble paying attention to the speakerphone,” said Brown, who is also a roughly 5-year veteran of the volunteer fire department. of Chisholm.

As he scanned his surroundings, Brown saw what looked like faint wisps of smoke rising from a nearby building.

“I just took off and as I approached I could see that a pile of wooden pallets that were leaning on the back of the building were on fire and spreading,” Brown said.

As his mother, who was attending the rally in support of her son and other striking nurses, called 911, Brown sprinted to warn residents of upstairs apartments that the building was on fire .

“I knew it was going up fast,” he said.

The outer door was locked, but he shouted and knocked on it, catching the attention of a startled tenant, who let him in.

Once inside, Brown advised the man to leave and ran to the doors of the other three apartments in the building. There was no answer at two of the flats, which later turned out to be unoccupied at the time, but a man answered at the third.

“It sounded like he was a bit in shock,” Brown recalled of the Tenant’s initial incredulous response.

As smoke began to billow down the hallway, Brown told the man unequivocally that he better get out quickly, and he did just that.

Brown said he thought about trying to break down the other two apartment doors, but when flames became visible on a staircase he decided against it and left the building himself.

“I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time, and I had the training to help,” he said.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj praised Brown for his quick and selfless response, noting that he most likely saved lives.

“He made a difference. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

The cause of the fire, at 522 E. Fourth St., is still under investigation, Fire Marshal Lisa Consie said, explaining that due to the building’s unstable condition, she won’t hadn’t had a chance to explore its interior on Thursday morning.

Krizaj said early indications seemed to indicate the fire was starting after hours on the lower floor of Lake Superior Medical Equipment. The fire call was received at 5.37pm on Wednesday and the business owner said staff left work at 5pm. The company sells oxygen and other medical supplies and equipment.

Crews are battling a fire in the back of a building in the 500 block of East Fourth Street in Duluth on Wednesday.

Dan Williamson/Duluth News Tribune

“We’ve had reports of explosions. But to my knowledge, I don’t believe they were oxygen cylinders exploding,” he said, suggesting that the popping sounds reported by the people were probably the sound of tires exploding on a vehicle that also caught fire. .

But Krizaj said the presence of oxygen was a concern. Other factors included natural gas that had been shut off and a strong wind blowing off the lake. “So this was a fire that spread very quickly, and our men did a great job when they arrived on the scene knocking that out and smashing it out as fast as they could and doing an internal search,” he said.

Fortunately, no one was found inside the building, after the evacuation of the premises by the two tenants.

Krizaj said the fire was fully contained around 10:30 or 11 p.m. Wednesday, but crews remained on the scene overnight and into the next day to deal with hot spots that threatened to reignite the structure.

“We’ve got the fire under control and confined it to the original building, which was the medical supply company. But there will definitely be smoke and probably some water damage on some of the adjacent structures,” Krizaj said. .

About 38 firefighters responded to the scene. and Krizaj said another 22 firefighters showed up off-duty to ensure the rest of the city was covered in blazes, while crews continued to battle the Central Hillside blaze.

Duluth firefighters also received assistance from the Senior Fire Department, which sent an air unit to the fire, and the 148th Air National Guard Unit, which sent a mobile unit equipped to fill the bottles with firefighters at the scene.

“The building is probably going to be a total loss. We can’t talk about that right now. But you can look at it, and it’s pretty obvious,” Krizaj said.

While community members were quick and helpful in reporting the blaze, Krizaj said he was disappointed that on at least two occasions motorists ran over fire hoses on Wednesday night.

“It’s extremely dangerous for us because if we lose the water supply for these crews inside a fire like this, it could be catastrophic. It could actually be fatal,” he said. he declared, urging the public to avoid fire hoses at a fire scene.

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