“Remember Jesus’ words in the storm: ‘I am with you,’” Msgr. Henry Breier told the congregation of family, friends, firefighters and other first responders that filled the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis for the funeral Mass of St. Louis firefighter Benjamin Polson Thursday morning.
Polson, 33, died Jan. 13 when the top of a home on Cote Brilliante Avenue in north St. Louis collapsed while he searched for potential victims inside. He had been a member of the St. Louis Fire Department since November 2019, assigned to Engine Company 13 in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
Polson is a graduate of St. Raphael the Archangel School, Vianney High School and Missouri State University. He also earned an MBA from Drury University and a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
With his education and drive, Polson could have had any career he wanted, Msgr. Breier said, but he answered a calling — a vocation — to serve. Polson had grown up watching his father, Jim Polson, serve a long career with the St. Louis Fire Department, and his mother, Susan Polson, dedicate her life to service through teaching at St. Raphael School.
Polson was a humble man who called himself “just a firefighter” but did his job the way he did everything: giving 100 percent, said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson and Deputy Chief Ken Smith. When he graduated from the fire academy, Polson requested to be placed at the busiest engine house available, Smith recalled. And he took his calling seriously.
“He put the health and safety of others above all else, including his own well-being, his own dreams, his own life,” Jenkerson said.
Polson’s family and friends recounted stories of him as a steady companion, always looking out for others.
“When you were friends with Ben, you felt it,” said Dan Barraco, a friend of Polson’s for more than 20 years.
He was a devoted brother who served as his sister’s best man in her wedding; an adventurous spirit who moved to Colorado to become a ski instructor with no previous skiing experience; a loving son, grandson, cousin, nephew.
“I’m a better person because Ben was a part of my life,” said Rebecca Slay, Polson’s sister.
The funeral Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Breier, rector of the Cathedral Basilica, and concelebrated by Father John Mayo, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Church, and Msgr. Dennis Stehly, vicar general for the archdiocese who resides at St. Raphael. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski attended in choir.
Polson’s mother, Susan Polson, teaches third grade at St. Raphael the Archangel. The school was closed on Thursday to allow faculty, staff and students to attend the funeral Mass. Last week, Susan Polson’s students made cards for her and spent extra time in the church praying the Rosary. The parish and school community gathered on Sunday evening to pray the Rosary and assemble a spiritual bouquet for the family.
“Having journeyed with families before during sudden, tragic losses, I know that our community’s role is just beginning. Grief does not end with a funeral, especially for a beloved son,” Father Mayo said. “There will be days where that grief will be more palpable than others for Ms. Polson. I know our community will be there in these moments to understand, to laugh, to cry, and to remember with her.”