KEOKUK, Iowa — Fire broke out in a duplex apartment Wednesday, killing three children and three firefighters and spreading grief through this small Mississippi River town.
It was the first time firefighters from Keokuk, population 12,500, had died in the line of duty. There are 19 full-time firefighters in Keokuk.
Killed were a 7-year-old girl and 1-year-old twins whose gender was not available. Their names were not disclosed. The firefighters killed were Assistant Fire Chief Dave McNally, 48; Jason Bitting, 29; and Nate Tuck, 39.
"They gave their lives to attempt to rescue these people," an emotional Fire Chief Mark Wessel said at a news conference. "In terms of bravery, I think that speaks for itself."
Wessel would not speculate about the fire's cause.
Andrea Glasscock, who lives down the street, said her son went outside to shovel snow and came racing back into the house shortly after 8 a.m.
"He said, 'Mom, there's a lady on her porch on the corner and she's screaming that she can't find her kids and there's a fire,' Glasscock said.
Glasscock said she found the woman on her roof, with smoke billowing out from behind her, and gave her a snow-soaked shirt so she could cover her face and go inside the duplex after her children.
The mother handed a boy to Glasscock and Robin Korschgen.
"I got him in a blanket and he appeared to be fine, very smoky and stuff," said Korschgen, who lives across the street from the duplex.
The mother and child, Melissa Cooper and Jacob McFarland, were in fair condition at an Iowa City hospital.
The bodies of two of the firefighters were found upstairs, one of them near the 7-year-old. The other firefighter's body was found downstairs.
McNally, a 25-year department veteran, had a wife and three children. Bitting, with the department six years, had a wife and three children. Tuck, a four-year veteran and high school baseball coach, leaves a wife and two children.
Neighbor Brenda Wetzel-Sage said she was immediately reminded of a fire in Worcester, Mass., on Dec. 3 in which six firefighters were killed.
"I thought of Massachusetts and thought, 'Here it is in our neighborhood,' " she said. "It says in the Bible, 'In the twinkle of an eye your life is changed forever.' "