Baltimore city fire officials said a man died in an early-morning fire in the 3100 block of Presstman Street, and some fire officials are blaming budget cuts and fire station closures for the death.
The fire was reported at about 3 a.m. Wednesday. Fire department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright said heavy smoke was showing when firefighters arrived at the scene.
They found a man and a woman unconscious on the second floor of the house. Cartwright said firefighters pulled the victims out of the house, and both were taken to Shock Trauma, where the man later died.
The victims were later identified as Sam Davis, 76, and his daughter, 53-year-old Fran Wilder. A second woman inside the house, identified as Davis' wife, Mammie, escaped without injury.
Sam Davis is father of the director of budget and administration for the Baltimore Sun, 11 News learned.
Fire officials said there were two smoke alarms in the home but weren't sure if they were working. The blaze caused $20,000 in damage and is still under investigation.
Cartwright said that the closest search and rescue company to the scene, Truck 18 on West North Avenue, was closed overnight and a fire unit from McMechen Street was the first to arrive at the scene. 11 News has learned that Engine 8, which also would have been on the assignment, was also closed.
Fire Chief Jim Clack has been grappling with deep budget cuts since July, when rotating closures of fire stations began. He announced earlier this week that a number of fire companies would close permanently due to budget cuts.
Cartwright said officials will investigate if the closed fire station resulted in delays in responding to the fire. Many firefighters told 11 News that if Truck 18 had been there, Davis wouldn't have died.
"In this case, many of the members on the fire ground assured me that if these closings hadn't occurred, there probably would have been a different outcome," said city fire union President Bob Sledgeski.
Clack said a false alarm, a garbled 911 cell phone call and an inaccurate address had a significant effect on response time to the fire.
"I will say that Truck 18 … was one of the rotating closures last night, and that Engine 20 had just been sent on what turned out to be a false alarm east of the station, about a mile, along with a bunch of other companies. And so, we had a couple of events that contributed to a little bit of a delaying in us getting to the fire, but preliminarily, we did get to the fire within the time we wanted to get to it," the fire chief told 11 News.
Union leaders said the closures are putting the safety of citizens at risk. They're calling on the mayor to find the $3.5 million necessary to keep all the fire stations open.
"I want to look at our budget, but I also want to look to see if there's something that we can do with our firefighter and paramedics to address the paid leave but meet the need to eliminate the rotations," Mayor Sheila Dixon said.
The mayor said she may have to take money from other areas of the budget.
Fire union members became publicly pointed in their criticism of the deadly fire on Wednesday afternoon, directly blaming Dixon's budget cuts for an emergency services shortfall.
Clack said Baltimore still has some of the best response times in the nation.
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