NORTH ST. PAUL — It's something that's usually only seen in the movies.
One of Vadnais Heights' full-time fire technicians, who moonlights as North St. Paul's assistant fire chief, caught a baby dropped from a second-floor balcony in a pink blanket during a fire April 22.
Dustin Kalis was the first one on the scene to a fire at an apartment complex at 2045 Seventh Avenue E. Sunday afternoon; he came straight from his North St. Paul home in a chief vehicle.
Kalis began giving orders to incoming engines from North St. Paul, Maplewood and Oakdale as smoke billowed out of a first-floor apartment window.
“As I was helping crews get ready on the side of the building where we were going to go in, I heard someone call for help,” Kalis remembered. “I looked up and saw a dad coming out with a small child in his arms. He looked obviously very panicked.”
Kalis told the man on the second-floor balcony about 12 to 15 feet high not to jump but use the stairs. However, the man came back and said it was too smokey.
“I got underneath the balcony and he dropped her down,” Kalis said. Firefighters then coached the man how to jump from the balcony.
Catching a baby in mid-air isn't something that is in official firefighter training, Kalis said, but firefighters are taught how to react to crisis situations.
“I've heard about it before but never experienced it in my time on the fire department,” he noted. “It's pretty unusual — you see about it in the movies.”
If the balcony had been any higher, the crews may have used a ladder to rescue the father and baby instead. However, catching the baby got the family to safety faster, Kalis noted.
No one was injured in the fire and two cats were also rescued, said North St. Paul Fire Chief Scott Duddeck.
The fire started in a corner unit, likely due to unattended candles, Duddeck said. About 10 units in the 24-unit complex were damaged and the Red Cross is assisting any residents who need a place to stay until the units are fixed.
Duddeck said he was not surprised Kalis reacted quickly to make sure the baby and father got to safety.
“Dustin is someone that is entirely involved in the fire department form both our fire side and our medical response,” Duddeck said. Kalis is also active in the Ramsey County chief's association fire training program and trains new recruits for fire services, Duddeck added.
“The whole thing has been kind of surreal,” said Kalis, who was featured on ABC News due to the catch. He has been a firefighter with North St. Paul for almost 14 years.
Kalis responds to fire calls in Vadnais Heights during the weekday and also does inspections and plan reviews for fire alarms and permits in the city. He has worked in Vadnais Heights almost four years. He also coordinates the Vadnais Heights Fire Department training.
He said maybe in the future firefighters will have a training drill on catching small children from balconies.