MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Saturday marks a sad anniversary for the city of St. Louis Park. Forty years ago, a pizza shop went up in flames on Excelsior Boulevard.

Two firefighters, Arnold Johnson and Robert McElmurry, died in the fire, and both left behind a widow and three kids who still live in the area.
In 1971, a restaurant called Pizza House sat on Excelsior Boulevard. The fire started in back of the building, and spread, unknown to the firefighters, into a false ceiling.

St. Louis Park Fire Department chief Luke Stemmer called it the nearly perfect fire.

“It was clear, there was no smoke,” Stemmer said. “They were looking for hot spots and cleaning it up. Then, all of a sudden, in a minute’s time, the smoke was through the floor.”

The smoke and debris trapped Johnson and McElmurry. Crews still on the scene couldn’t get back into the building.

At the time, there were many fires with the same circumstances across the country. Those instances sparked a change in the way the firefighters respond to emergencies.

“As chief, I’m not willing to trade lives for property. One of our values and mottos here is ‘Everyone needs to go home in the morning,'” Stemmer said.

Now there are reserve crews on the scene just in case a firefighter needs help. There are also safety checks every 15 minutes for crews inside burning buildings and homes. Additional resources are brought to the scene right at the beginning of a fire call.

“We’re putting enough firefighters on the fire ground. They may not come from the same department, but we’re getting them there and operating safely,” Stemmer said.

Saturday, a new station will serve as the place to honor the station’s past. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. at the station on Louisiana Avenue South and Cedar Lake Road.

The families of Johnson and McElmurry will be there, along with members of the fire department. It is open to the public.

Comments (6)
  1. Dean says:

    Continue to Rest in Peace.

  2. Tom says:

    Bob McElmurry has a son John and we were best friends when this happened.I think of this often, I hope all is well John.

  3. John says:

    Thanks for the thoughts Tom. All is well. Memorial ceremony was touching and long overdue. Chief Stemmer did a great job. Can’t thank him and the entire department enough.

  4. Marcy Johnson Knott says:

    Thank you everyone – Especially Chief Stemmer – for the heartfelt ceremony! Arnie & Bob will never be forgotten. They are our heroes forever! Many good stories were told & memories shared… Keep telling the good stories!!

    1. Kathy Mulleady Dilley says:

      I remember that fire well. I remember feeling so sad for the brave firemen who died and for their familes who were left behind. I remember seeing the three pretty little girls at church who had lost their daddy in such a tragic way. Today, I remember those two men who died. Two brave, strong and honorable men. I remember Arnie Johnson, the daddy of those three pretty little girls at my church. One of those girls is now my best friend. Arnie, someday when I see you in heaven and I want to give you a big hug!!!

  5. Debbie Johnson Ahlstrom says:

    Thank You Chief Stemmer and your firefighters! The memorial for my dad, Arnie, and Bob will be cherished forever. I tried to get around to all your men to let them know how much We appreciate the memorial service. The bell ringing, poem and
    ride on the snorkel truck made me remember and feel so proud. Thank you for a wonderful day!