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Double the heroism: St. Paul riverfront workers come to the rescue, again

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Upper River Services mechanics Randy Kohl and Ben Brooks.
Upper River Services mechanics Randy Kohl and Ben Brooks stand for a portrait along the southern bank of the Mississippi River in St. Paul on June 22, 2018. Both Kohl and Brooks were involved in the rescue of a 14-year-old boy Thursday afternoon.
Lacey Young | MPR News

When phone calls alerted railroad and barge workers that two children had fallen in the Mississippi River on Thursday in downtown St. Paul, they knew just what to do. 

For at least two of those workers, it was their second act of heroism in as many months.

The workers teamed up to rescue both boys — cousins, ages 10 and 14 — from the fast-moving current on Thursday afternoon.

Upper River Services employees used this vessel for the rescue.
Upper River Services employees used this vessel to rescue the 14-year-old boy on Thursday afternoon along the Mississippi River on June 22, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Randy Kohl, 61, and Ben Brooks, 27, are two of the rescuers. The two mechanics aren't the type to seek attention, but they spoke on Friday about the rescue.

Kohl has been working on barges with Upper River Services in St. Paul for more than half his life. He said Thursday started out like a typical workday.

"We were all working on one of our bigger boats," he recounted. "(Then) we got a phone call (that) said there was two 10-year-olds in the river. It turned out to be a 10 and 14-year-old."

The boys had been playing near Raspberry Island when the younger boy fell in, authorities said. The older boy jumped in to try to save him, but a strong current carried both of them downriver.

A certificate of merit from the Coast Guard.
A certificate of merit from the Coast Guard sits in the Upper River Services office on June 22, 2018. The Coast Guard awarded the crew of the rescue vessel the certificate after rescuing a 14-year-old boy from the Mississipi River on Thursday.
Lacey Young | MPR News

A group of nearby railroad employees reached the older boy first, using a boat. Then Kohl and Brooks and their crew found the 10-year-old clinging to a piece of driftwood, trapped between two large barges. 

"He kept saying that he didn't want to die, and he was praying something," Kohl said.

The men were able to pull the boy to safety; the entire ordeal lasted about 10 minutes. What to many would have felt like a bad dream instead felt like deja vu to Kohl and Brooks.

"I guess we weren't really looking for recognition," Kohl said. "(It's) just (a) way of life, it's part of the river; we kind of know we've got to save ourselves out here."

The Upper River Services vessel used in the rescue.
The Upper River Services vessel used to rescue the 14-year-old boy on Thursday afternoon sits in the Mississippi River on June 22, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Kohl and Brooks were among the rescuers who received commendations from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Coast Guard just last week for helping save a man who had jumped into the river and was in danger of drowning in May.

This time around, Brooks said they felt even more adrenaline and anguish as they attempted to save a child who kept asking about the cousin who had tried to save him.

"Once we figured out that they were both all right, it was better than knowing just the one we had was all right," Brooks said.

Authorities said the boys were checked out by paramedics and released to family members at the scene.

Since the boys were rescued, gratitude and thank-yous have poured in from across the state. Brooks and Kohl said they don't want the full credit, because they were part of a team who worked together to save the boys. But Brooks said they are glad to be part of a story with a happy ending.

"It's a good break from all the negativity that's out there now," he said. "(It) feels pretty good to know that people out there are still willing to do that for other people."