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Set-to-shut fire company praised for rescuing children in burning building

Truck Company 10 helps save three unconscious children amid a wider debate over its planned closing. Exclusive photos.

1 lexington st fire

Flames leap out of the house where three children were trapped on the third floor. Truck 10′s ladder is at right.

Photo by: recon2photo, Nick Eid

Baltimore Fire Chief James Clack last night commended city firefighters – including those from a truck company slated to be disbanded on July 1 – for their dramatic rescue of three children trapped in a blazing building.

Arriving Sunday at 2:39 a.m., Truck 10 was the first truck company to reach 806 West Lexington St., where its firefighters helped pull out the children on the third floor of the building. All three were unconscious. One was not breathing and without a pulse.

“Those kids would have been dead in another minute,” said a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

Two boys, ages 12 and 15, and one girl, 11, were reported in serious but stable condition at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit last night. One was still using a breathing tube. All are expected to recover, according to fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright.

“We commend our members for the remarkable job that they did in rescuing the children under adverse conditions,” Chief Clack said in a statement released to The Brew. “We pray that their conditions continue to progress.”

“These Kids Came Back to Life”

Firefighters and other eyewitnesses said the quick response and teamwork by Truck 10, together with Engines 8, 14 and other companies, was instrumental in saving the trapped children.

A Truck 10 firefighter throws up a ladder to try to reach the third floor of burning house. This picture was taken by off-duty Baltimore City Firefighter Nick Eid.

Truck 10 firefighter throws up a ladder to try to reach the third floor of house. This picture was taken by off-duty Baltimore City Firefighter Nick Eid.

“Basically these kids came back to life through a team effort that included a company that is to be closed,” said a knowledgeable fire official.

He said Truck 10’s intimate knowledge of the layout of the apartment building where the fire started was critical to the success of the mission.

“These men do smoke detector inspections and know the oddities of these [public housing] buildings,” said one eyewitness. He cited, for example, the division of the buildings into a first-floor and a combined second-and-third floor unit (where the fire was centered).

Cartwright, the department’s spokesman, said that if Truck 10 had been permanently closed yesterday – as proposed by the fiscal 2013 budget – Truck Company 16 would have been used to fight the blaze.

Truck 16 is located in Madison Park/Bolton Hill, about a mile farther from Sunday’s fire than Truck 10.

Another view of the flames at the rear of the house. Firefighters had to carry ladders and hoses more than a block to the scene. (Photo by Nick Eid)

Another view of the flames at the rear of the house. Firefighters had to carry their ladders and hoses more than a block to the scene. (Photo by Nick Eid at recon2photo)

The other truck company participating in Sunday’s rescue, Truck 1, is located in Old Town in East Baltimore. It was not immediately dispatched and arrived seven minutes after Truck 10.

A unit much closer to the fire, Truck 23 in Pigtown, was not operating on Sunday because of the city’s rotating closures program.

“As a department, we are fortunate to have response times that fall within the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards,” Cartwright said. “The efficiency and timeliness of our response greatly contributed to the survival of these three children.”

3 Fire Companies Slated to Close

Truck 10 has served the Harlem Park area of West Baltimore for more than a century. It is the most decorated firefighting company in the city, with 47 unit citations for going above and beyond duty, according to fire officials.

It is also one of three companies that the Rawlings-Blake administration plans to disband – the others being Truck 15 in East Baltimore and Squad 11 at Bayview/Greektown.

Firefighters enter from the front of the building to search for the trapped children. (Photo by Nick Eid)

Firefighters rush into the front door of the house in search of the missing children. (Photo by Nick Eid)

On Friday, The Brew described how Truck 15 provided critical treatment to a baby that was stabbed by her mother two weeks ago.

Last night’s fire reportedly started in the second-floor kitchen.

The smoke roused the mother of the three children, and she fled the building when flames blocked her way to the third floor, according to knowledgeable sources.

Truck 10, which arrived three minutes after it was dispatched, was confronted by heavy smoke, flames venting from the second-floor windows – and information that children were trapped on the floor above.

Truck 10′s attempt to reach the children via ground ladders thrown at the rear of the building was unsuccessful because of the intensity of the flames. The only window available on the third floor was too narrow for entry.

(A truck company is assigned to rescues. Engine companies handle fire suppression.)

Firefighters from Truck 1 ventilate the third-floor from the aerial ladder. Truck 10 and other personnel were already inside the building. (Photo by Nick Eid)

Firefighters ventilate the front third-floor. Truck 10 and other personnel were already inside the building. (Photo by Nick Eid)

Searching Through the Smoke

Truck 10 then joined other firefighters in approaching the third floor from the front of the house.

“These guys know the layout of these buildings, and that played a major part in saving the children,” Rick Hoffman, president of firefighters Local 734, said yesterday.

With flames from the second floor subdued, firefighters felt their way up to the third floor in the pitch dark.

“It was an all-hands search,” said a person familiar with the search. Amid heavy black smoke, the firefighters flipped over beds, searched closets and checked the bathroom.

The children were found huddled in one of the rooms, unconscious, with two barely breathing and the third with no pulse or breath.

“We barely got there in time,” said one rescuer.

The children were carried by the men to awaiting ambulances on Lexington Street for transport to the UM Shock Trauma Unit.

“Truck 10 is a bunch of heroes among other heroes,” said Hoffman. “The whole team of companies made this a proud day for Baltimore firefighters.”

A Truck 10 participant – who pointed to the irony that his hundred-year-old company may be shut in a few weeks – added: “If they close us down, they’re tearing up a family. They’re taking  away a vital part of this city’s firefighting machine.”

Scene on Lexington Street shortly after the firefighters rescued the three children from the building. (Photo by Nick Eid)

Scene on Lexington Street about the time when the children were found and transported to the University of Maryland Medical Center. (Photo by Nick Eid)

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  • Gerald Neily

    The city government’s budget is a reflection of its values and beliefs. As reflected in the Fire Department budget, the Pigtown fire unit operates on some days but not Sundays, so the city must believe that fires are less likely to happen in its service area on Sundays. And as reflected in the city’s expenditure for its Charm City Circulator bus system, what “saving the city” means is saving people from the bus fare and ignominy of riding MTA buses, and saving planners from the trouble of reforming the state-run MTA system.

  • Carol Ott

    I find it interesting that Kevin Cartwright is quoted as saying BCFD’s response times fall within the NFPA’s acceptable range — yet in a previous Brew post, it was stated that  Baltimore currently lags slightly behind national standards for response time — I’m assuming that snippet was attributed to Warren Branch, who was quoted in the post.  (See April 18 “Councilman calls for hearings on proposed fire closures”.)Whatever the case may be — it is reprehensible to consider closing fire companies, especially fire companies that serve our poorest neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods that bear the burden of the majority of Baltimore’s vacant homes — a large number of which are owned by the City government.I am thankful these three children were saved — but I don’t want to think about the ones who may not be, if our mayor has her way.

    • Anonymous

      From B Brew: The response time by BCFD are a matter of dispute among different parties, with Councilman Branch and fire union officials saying the dept is slightly behind NFPA standards and fire brass saying they meet the standards — or that their goal is to meet the standards (a difference).

      Complicating matters further are varying standards for response times for the initial arrival of units and the full complement of equipment. We’re trying to unravel, and it’s not easy. -MR

      • Carol Ott

        And that was sort of the point of my comment — NFPA standards, while not absolute, are pretty clear — why nobody seems to know what the standards are, and whether BCFD meets these standards, is alarming as hell.

    • Haligans

      The response times are debatable as you say.  Many drivers operate the vehicles very aggressively ignoring, or should I say, circumventing safety and written standards to get there as fast as possible because we know every second counts. If we stopped at every stop sign and red light, drove the speed limit or slightly over, the response times would be much greater.  The Department uses our pride, dedication, strong desire to get there and make a difference, etc. against us to justify downsizing.  The Fire Dept. has been cut to nearly 55% of what it used to be several decades ago.  With a population that has declined by several 100K people…yet the call volume is 4 to 5X what it was in 1960.  The men and women of the City Fire Dept. are the lowest paid in the Baltimore/Washington Metro area yet are some of the most dedicated and aggressive individuals to serve.  We don’t want awards, medals or certificates. What we want is for the admin. to stop tying our hands behind our backs and making it harder to accomplish our job.  Every company closed, whether temporary or permanent make it harder to do our job and make a difference.  It also makes a dangerous job become even more dangerous as help is farther away and we are going to areas we are unfamiliar with.

  • Salbrunacini

    Keep this is mind also….this community used to be served by truck 13 up until 2001. Then truck 2 until 2009. Both of those companies have been closed. So now the city wants to close a third truck company that services this neighborhood.

    • Theclockstrikes13

      Glad it is not cold, or the heating season

  • Unellu

    Politicians are inventing dangerous and positively unconscionable methods to control cost.  We need to stop them.  It’s almost as if they are saying poor and middle class lives don’t matter.  They wouldn’t play havoc with rich neighborhoods this way.  Fires are unpredictable.  They cannot be timed rhythmically to suit a politician’s fiscal sensibilities.  This article reminds me of the Persian emperor Xerxes–the story about him is apocryphal, I am sure, but instructive.  Xerxes expected the waters of the Hellespont to cooperate with him and when the waters disobeyed he had the Hellespont lashed 300 times and lowered into it fetters to punish and control its rebellious waters.   Baltimore politicians seem to be saying the same to fires in certain areas of Baltimore.   This is a translation from Herodotus:

    “Thou bitter water, thy master lays upon thee this penalty, because
    thou didst wrong him not having suffered any wrong from him: and Xerxes
    the king will pass over thee whether thou be willing or no; but with
    right, as it seems, no man doeth sacrifice to thee, seeing that thou art
    a treacherous[33] and briny stream.”

    A Mayor Talks to Fire–Baltimore 2012

    Fire do not roar
    through neighborhoods
    I have fingered and marked
    as not deserving of fire trucks–
    I command you stay put–
    be an element obedient
    to the power of politics–
    I order you to contain your furor–
    keep your hot head down
    beneath the flow of the wind– cower–
    squelch your tendency to smolder–
    spark and soar,
    combust, melt and move
    all things flammable to ash–

    Why should you listen?  
    Because I wish it–
    because I have a more important agenda
    on my mind than you–
    the budget has swelled,
    developers wait in the wings
    and their share of my donated pie
    has to be large enough
    to impress them I have the might
    to move mountains
    and raid bank vaults–

    You cannot raise your hydra head
    among the tenements that have gone to seed–
    or flow swiftly like a river
    flows through bulrushes–
    in those parts of Baltimore–
    I’ve designated free of all fire companies–
    you have to lie low–
    hold your tongues inside your belly–
    and avoid consorting with arsonists–

    Why?
    Because as Xerxes to the Hellespont–
    I to you–fire–
    seeing that you are a treacherous
    and volatile creature of the gods–
    I will fetter you with
    the help of my minions in the police department–
    I will pistol whip you into submission–
    and throw you in a cell all by yourself–sputtering–
    or with the ghost of Prometheus–
    I will send you packing to the Sahara–
    where the scorching sand will scotch you–
    and you will be– fire put out by fire….

    TIS I WHO TALKS HERE

    None of the above makes sense?
    Why should it?
    After all it is a poem
    about the politicians of Baltimore–
    ordering fire trucks to stop operating
    in certain jurisdictions–
    and this rightly or wrongly–
    has made me conclude
    those politicians have decided–
    they can order fire– at will–
    wherever and whenever they choose–
    back in the box
    where it slept in antiquity–

    So when I equate SRB
    with Xerxes in the department of sanity–
    Who will oppose me?  (Only James Hunt)
    Not even Prometheus–
    I am convinced–not even he–
    will say I have vengeance in my heart
    or in my opinions I harbor bias…..

    Usha Nellore

    Don’t miss how Europe has answered austerity measures–at least in France and in Greece it has un-elected the austere politicians–I know, I know–MerkMan will remind me I have to obey authority and James Hunt will find the holes in my Xerxes story or ask me for my sources and where I got the data about the 300 lashes to the Hellespont.  I await breathlessly.

            

  • Wooden Ladders

    You would think by meeting and or surpassing national standards the city would praise the men.  Instead they want to close companies.  This is typical, government wants to drag down something that works.  The FD is voted the number 1 city agency.   25 years ago the FD had 2 or 3 Deputy Chiefs and now they have 11, maybe the city should cut some chiefs and not the indians.  If the city is poor as the city says then why did the chiefs just receive a $12,000 raise? 

    • Gerald Neily

      Wooden Ladders: Thank you so much for the valuable insider view. That takes guts, which is something our great brave fire fighters have in abundance. Your insider view is also a wonderful compliment to Usha’s eloquent outsider view, reminding us again of what a great family the Brew’s readership is. Only in The Brew can we get the connection between the BCFD’s 11 Deputy Chiefs who insulate the politicians from reality and the international problems in France and Greece, from the ancient Persian Emperor Xerxes to the purge of Nicolas Sarkozy just two days ago. If it’s any consolation, government doesn’t just want “to drag down something that works”, they also do well at sustaining and perpetuating what does not work.

  • traditionalist

    Closing any firehouse puts lives at risk. Those who have to decide how money is spent must ask the question, ” what is most important, giving money to  programs with minimal results, or using funds to protect life and property?” They know the answer, as do we, but do they have the guts to do it? People will die in fires, yes we know, but should we increase this for no good reason? I think not…

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