Three firefighters killed, one in critical condition after being trapped in blaze in vacant Baltimore rowhome

Three firefighters killed, one in critical condition after being trapped in blaze in vacant Baltimore rowhome
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Three Baltimore firefighters were killed and a fourth remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition after being trapped in a blaze inside a vacant home Monday that’s one of the deadliest in the city’s history.

The firefighters were fighting a fire in the 200 block of South Stricker Street in the city’s New Southwest/Mount Clare neighborhood when the building they were inside partially collapsed.

Two firefighters were pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma. Another firefighter was pronounced dead at the scene. The dead include Lt. Paul Butrim, firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler, and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo. EMT/firefighter John McMaster remains in the hospital.

“Baltimore owes them the deepest gratitude and respect,” Mayor Brandon M. Scott in a statement released Monday evening.

“This is a gut wrenching tragedy for our city, the Baltimore City Fire Department, and most importantly the families of our firefighters,” Scott said. “There are no words to describe the pain and the severity of the losses we have suffered today. My heart is with the firefighters, their families, and the entire Baltimore City Fire Department who put the lives and safety of others before their own wellbeing each and every day.”

Fire Chief Niles Ford, visibly emotional, addressed the media in front of Maryland Shock Trauma.

“From this moment, we will honor those that lost their lives today for their bravery and courage,” he said.

Signs of the devastation of the fire were evident in front of Maryland Shock Trauma Monday afternoon. Dozens of firefighters led by three flag bearers processed silently through the street alongside an unmarked white van in front of the hospital around 2 p.m. City police officers stood by in salute.

Those gathered in front of the hospital throughout the morning offered one another condolences. Tweets offering prayers flowed in from other local fire departments and as far away as San Francisco.

The Stricker Street property where the fire began was the scene of another fire that injured three firefighters in 2015. The property owners were issued a vacant building notice in 2010, said Tammy Hawley, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Each year, vacant property owners must complete a registration, and the owner of the home on Stricker was cited in 2020 for failing to do so. Efforts to reach the owners were unsuccessful Monday afternoon.

The property was last inspected on Jan. 4, Hawley said, when an inspector found the front of the home adequately boarded and cleaned.

Vacant properties remain a stubborn problem in Baltimore. There are roughly 16,000 vacant homes in the city, and a few thousand are city-owned. Over the summer, the city began posting QR codes on some of the homes, allowing the public to identify their owners.

Vacant homes have proven dangerous for city firefighters in the past. In 2014, Lt. James Bethea died of smoke inhalation after a fall while responding to a fire in a vacant rowhome. Bathea’s death led to calls for reform after investigators found fire personnel took a “haphazard approach” to ventilating the house where he died.

Five city firefighters were injured in a 2001 fire in a vacant building when the third floor collapsed, causing the firefighters to fall as much as 40 feet into the building’s basement.

Fires that have claimed the lives of multiple city firefighters are rare. In 1955, six city firefighters were killed in a blaze that consumed the Tru-Fit clothing store in the 500 Block of Baltimore Street. The nine-alarm fire injured an additional 20 firefighters and was billed at the time as the worst catastrophe in the fire department’s history.”

In 1888, the lives of seven Baltimore firefighters were lost in an early morning blaze at the corner of Sharp and Lombard streets after they were buried beneath the walls of a three-story building.

The deadliest fire to strike the region in the modern era was a blaze that killed three Baltimore County firefighters in 1984. The men were trapped beneath a collapse roof while battling a blaze at a Dundalk furniture store.

Celeste Ireland, 55, said she was lying in bed in her home Monday morning when she began to see flashes of light. At first, she thought she was dreaming, but then her Shih Tzu began to bark and she arose and walked to her window.

“When I opened the curtain — and my house is right behind it — everything was ablaze,” Ireland said.

Her home is located behind the homes that caught fire, separated by an alley, she said.

The homes on fire appeared to be vacant, Ireland said. She saw the family that lived adjacent to the blaze be evacuated, she said.

Then, she heard that firefighters were trapped in the blaze.

“I’m a godly woman, and I just started praying,” she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden and librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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