Valiant Rescue Effort At Maryland Fire

Pete Piringer details efforts to rescue a child from a fast-moving house fire in Prince George’s County.


FD Profile Prince George's County is located along the eastern borders of Washington, D.C., and is home to Andrews Air Force Base, the University of Maryland, the NASA Space Flight Center and other federal, state and local government facilities. The Prince George's County Fire Department is a...


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FD Profile

Prince George's County is located along the eastern borders of Washington, D.C., and is home to Andrews Air Force Base, the University of Maryland, the NASA Space Flight Center and other federal, state and local government facilities. The Prince George's County Fire Department is a combination system with about 675 career personnel and over 1,500 active volunteers. There are 47 stations that cover nearly 500 square miles and serve the county's population of 750,000.

Thursday, April 17, 1997, started as a typical spring day in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The weather was overcast, with temperatures in the mid-50s, with an occasional drizzle. The morning's fire and rescue crews handled the usual smorgasbord of calls for assistance. But just before 9:30 A.M., on a sparsely populated stretch of Baltimore Avenue between the communities of Beltsville and Laurel in Prince George's County, MD, a fire started in an old two-story, wood-frame house. The incident would touch the lives of many people that day.

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Photo by Mark E. Brady, Asst. PIO/Prince George's County FD
1. The fire apparently started in the kitchen and went undetected and unnoticed until the smoke filled the first floor.

 


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Photo by Mark E. Brady, Asst. PIO/Prince George's County FD
2. Several civilians and ambulance personnel attempted to use a painter's ladder to locate the child before the arrival of fire apparatus.

 

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Photo by Mark E. Brady, Asst. PIO/Prince George's County FD
3. Initial operations concentrated on rescuing the 14-month-old child on the second floor of the balloon frame house.

 


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Photo by Mark E. Brady, Asst. PIO/Prince George's County FD
4. After several rescue attempts, Firefighter James Almoney exits the window after the second floor becomes untenable.

 

Tucked between an auto body shop and other commercial structures, the house was a bit out of place and hardly noticeable from nearby U.S. Route 1. The fire apparently started in the kitchen and it went undetected and unnoticed until smoke filled the first floor. As the smoke thickened, an 18-year-old woman quickly headed for the stairs so that she could check on her sleeping 14-month-old daughter. Unable to climb the stairs because of the smoke and heat, the terrified mother ran next door to the auto body shop, where the baby's father was working.

"The mother came running in, and she was screaming, 'The house is on fire! Come and get my baby!' We ran over and went inside… There was a lot of smoke, and it was very hot," said the owner of the auto body shop. (The house had no telephones.) Although workers could make it only about eight to 10 feet inside the burning house, the baby's father pressed on and bounded up the stairs. By this time, the smoke and intense heat had apparently traveled to the second floor. Unsuccessful in his first attempt, the man was forced to jump out a window. It is believed that he received inhalation burns in the process.

As someone went to call 911 to report the fire, with the help of others, the frantic father, unaware of his own injuries, propped a painter's ladder to a second-story window to gain entry but again was forced to retreat because of the heat. By now, as the fire progressed, several passersby, including two off-duty Montgomery County firefighters, Bob Holmes and Anthony Crump, and private ambulance worker Pete Crabill, noticed the smoke and stopped.

At the same time, Beltsville Ambulance 319, enroute to an emergency call on Virginia Manor Road, advised the Prince George's County Bureau of Fire/Rescue Communications via radio of "smoke in the area" on Baltimore Avenue, somewhere north of Muirkirk Road. However, the crew Ambulance 319 could not determine the exact location of the origin of smoke and continued on its original call. Simultaneously, as the 911 call was being received from the auto body shop, reporting a fire nearby, the "street" assignment was dispatched consisting of four engine companies, Beltsville (31), Beltsville/ Calverton (41), Branchville (11), Greenbelt (35), one truck company, Laurel (Tower 10) and a battalion chief for "smoke in the area" of Muirkirk Road and Baltimore Avenue.

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