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.
“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.
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.
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.)
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.”