Firefighter recounts escape from church fire

12:30 PM, May 29, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Their church in ruins, the members of Walker Community United Methodist Church held a previously planned community dinner in the street Monday night.

"This is just a beautiful example of what our community is," said church member Willow Cordes-Eklund, while acknowledging the loss of the century-old church is "like experiencing a death."

A fire that started in a lightning storm Sunday night destroyed most of the church. Heavy equipment brought down the rest of the wood and brick structure on Monday morning after city inspectors deemed it to be unsafe.

Five firefighters suffered burns while fighting the fire, one of whom remained in the hospital Monday night.

Captain Joe Mattison was among four firefighters who found themselves trapped by fire in the church attic when their water supply was compromised. The firefighters grabbed their axes and tried unsuccessfully to chop through the wall and the floor, then turned back toward the fire.

"We got as low as we could, because we had a wall of fire that we needed to go through and we were on each other's heels on all fours and crawled out of there as fast as we could," he said.

Mattison suffered first and second degree burns on his wrists, fingers, back and neck.

He recalled the feeling when the firefighters emerged from the smoke and flames to see the mask of another firefighter. "It's like seeing Jesus for God's sake and it was the best feeling in the world."

Walker pastor Rev. Walter Lockhart said the church was insured and pledged to relocate or rebuild within the community. In the short-term, "I think 14 churches have offered us their sanctuary for worship and one synagogue."

Walker Community Church also had some help with dinner Monday night. Cross Winds United Methodist Church brought food for several hundred people all the way from Maple Grove.

Cross Winds pastor Rev. Jeanine Alexander and Lockhart were ordained together. "Our church heard about the fire last night and know they have this great outreach and just wanted to give them a hand," said Alexander.


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