‘Humbling beyond words’: St. Paul firefighters open up about fire that claimed 4 kids’ lives

First on scene

First on scene

It’s one of the most tragic deadly house fires ever in St. Paul and a morning the 60-plus responders will never forget.

“You hope on your worst day people will step up, and [the] entire scene did that,” Jake Ryks, firefighter for the St. Paul Fire Department, said about his fellow first responders.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 3, the call came in for a house fire on Arkwright Street. Within minutes, responders knew what was at stake, as a family with several children was inside.

“If you add the time it took us to get there, that means that everyone on that scene was asleep eight minutes ago,” Ryks said, adding: “So, I went from, ‘I’m asleep,’ to now I pull a victim out in five minutes.”

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Ryks was the first one in, pulling three people from the fire.

Fellow firefighter Mason Conlin went into the home shortly after, eventually pulling two kids from the home — including one he would have missed if it wasn’t for his instincts.

“I just turned around and went back, and I peel those blankets off, and there was another child under those blankets,” Conlin said.

Since the fire, four children have died. The mother was rescued by Joel Waters, a 10-year firefighter with the department.

“The family was very appreciative of the work we did so we could give all the family members a chance,” Waters said. “At least if it turned out where the prognosis wasn’t going to be good, [to be] surrounded by family to in order to say their goodbyes, which made me feel better about the work that we did that night,” Waters said.

One child has been moved from the ICU, and just last week, another went home — helping these first responders reflect.

“This little girl that’s gonna go live a long, happy life, and other victims that are still alive and still making strides … like, it’s just it’s humbling beyond words,” Ryke said. “The fact that we can be any part of that process, for this father, for this family, is just beyond words.”