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WATCH: St. Paul fire official bearhugs suicidal teen off ledge to safety

St. Paul Fire District Chief Conrad Ertz, photographed at a St. Paul fire station on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, pulled a woman to safety from the Robert Street bridge on Tuesday, Aug. 8. (Mara H. Gottfried / Pioneer Press)

When a St. Paul fire district chief saw a woman sitting on the edge of a bridge over the Mississippi River on Tuesday, he said his “heart went out to her immediately.”

Conrad Ertz took action, using hand signals to communicate with two St. Paul police officers already talking with the 18-year-old on the Robert Street bridge. He crept up behind her and put the woman into a bearhug, pulling her to safety with help from the two officers, Shawn Longen and Len Wall.

Paramedics took the woman to Regions Hospital for an evaluation, according to police.

A witness captured video of the rescue, which was posted to Facebook. It had been viewed more than 20,000 times as of Wednesday morning.

Longen and Wall were heading to a different call on Tuesday about 3:30 p.m. when they heard the report of someone on the bridge, and they headed that way. Longen said he could see a young woman up on the concrete railing, but she soon went to the other side.

“There’s not much to stand on and I was worried she could fall off accidentally,” Longen said. “She was crying and I could see right away she was in crisis.”

The St. Paul police department is putting all its patrol officers through Crisis Intervention Team training, and Wall and Longen used their training to try to build rapport with the woman.

“She said she felt like nobody loved her,” Longen said Wednesday. “I told her there are people and if they were there, they’d be telling her that, and trying to get her to come across the railing and give her a hug.”

Ertz was coming from another call downtown when he responded to the situation on the bridge. He saw that the woman was distressed.

“In these situations it’s very dynamic and it’s sad,” he said. “You want to help. … You stop sort of thinking about yourself and you’re thinking about the other individual and the pain or the trouble that they’re having.”

The woman seemed to be getting more agitated, and Ertz thought they needed to take action right away.

Ertz came up directly behind the teen, but her attention was focused on the officers and she “had no idea he was there,” Longen said. The officer had never met the fire district chief before, but was relieved to see he was 6 feet 5 inches tall — Longen figured Ertz’s height would give him leverage if the woman struggled or began falling.

Ertz signaled to Wall with his hand and nodded to Longen, who kept talking to the young woman.

After getting the woman to safety, Ertz and the officers talked to her and tried to calm her down and give her reassurance, saying, “We’re going to get you some help, there’s people who love you,” Longen recalled.

It was not the first time that Wall and Longen, who are partners on patrol, had been involved in a bridge rescue. They received the department’s Lifesaving Award in 2011when they assisted another officer and passersby with a woman who was dangling from the Wabasha Street bridge.

The rescues don’t begin with firefighters or police officers, Longen said.

“It starts with people in those areas who are looking out for people in crisis and call for help,” he said.


Signs to watch for: People who communicate thoughts of suicide, hopelessness or say there is no future for them. People who look for ways to die or search for such information online.

You can help by asking “in a really compassionate, not a judgmental way” if they’re thinking of killing themselves, said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. Asking doesn’t put suicidal thoughts in someone’s head, but actually reduces their stress level if they are thinking of it, he said.

Know about resources to offer someone at risk: The National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) will route people to the nearest crisis center. Additional information is at