North St. Paul firefighter catches baby dropped from blazing apartment balcony

The fire chief said he's never seen anything like it.
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Dustin Kalis

Dustin Kalis was the first fireman on the scene Sunday. 

Being a hero is a firefighter's job description, but rarely does a heroic story play out the way one did in St. Paul on Sunday. 

Nobody was injured in the fire that started on the 2000 block of 7th Avenue East at a St. Paul apartment complex, but it could've been a lot worse if not for the bravery and good hands of Dustin Kalis, the assistant chief of North St. Paul Fire Department. 

"As the crew was getting ready to make a knockdown on the fire, I hear someone call for help," Kalis told BMTN. "I scanned the side of the building and then a dad appeared with his daughter, waiting at the balcony."

Smoke from the blaze made the father's attempt to escape through the stairwell impossible, so he ran to the balcony and told Kalis that he was going to drop the baby into his arms. 

"He was pretty adamant that he was going to go over, and with timing and resources I knew we weren't going to be able to get a ladder up there," Kalis said, "and it really wasn't a thought at that time because the dad was holding the baby out, saying, 'here you go, she's coming down.'" 

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Seconds later, Kalis was catching an infant, saving her life. Then he helped coach the dad from the balcony to safety. 

"By the time she saw my face and realized I wasn't dad, that's kind of when she started crying," said Kalis. 

Department chief Scott Duddeck told BMTN that he's never seen anything like it in 33 years on the job. 

"Thankfully it wasn't a huge distance, like some of that you've seen of people jumping from third or fourth levels. This was a second level that was fairly low in comparison." 

Linebackers aren't supposed to have good hands

"Afterwards, when everything had worked out fine, the guys were giving him a time because Dustin grew up playing football," Duddeck explained. "They (the guys) said, 'good catch there,' and Dustin said, 'well I'm a linebacker, I'm not supposed to be catching passes.'"

Kalis was a linebacker at North St. Paul High School, going on to play at Concordia-St. Paul from 2000-04. 

"If there's one thing I've heard in the past few hours, it's my lack of hand skills. For once in my life they worked when they were supposed to."

"There are some cool things you can do as a firefighter and I guess that would be a surreal moment," he said. 

Some residents were displaced because of smoke and fire damage. The fire remains under investigation. 

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