On The Job - Baltimore

Joseph Louderback reports on a trio of fires that resulted in one win, one draw and the loss of a young firefighter.


BALTIMORE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Herman Williams Jr. Personnel: 1,768 career firefighters Apparatus: 36 engines, four aerial towers, 22 trucks, 18 medical units, one heavy rescue Population: 736,014 Area: 94 square miles Firefighters visiting Baltimore, MD, in 1995 fondly remember...


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BALTIMORE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief Herman Williams Jr.
Personnel: 1,768 career firefighters
Apparatus: 36 engines, four aerial towers, 22 trucks, 18 medical units, one heavy rescue
Population: 736,014
Area: 94 square miles

Firefighters visiting Baltimore, MD, in 1995 fondly remember the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards and the hospitality offered by the Baltimore City Fire Department that beckons them back year after year.

The pleasurable summer, however, was the calm before a storm of firefighting challenges that Baltimore's bravest won't soon forget.

The Mainland Club. When you pull six alarms in a 104-year-old building, there usually isn't much left. But when the last engine departed on Aug. 20, the Maryland Club on Charles Street was still standing. The exclusive men's club was a gathering place for the city's elite, its ornate exterior dominating the neighborhood in the shadow of Baltimore's Washington Monument.

The late-night blaze began in a rear athletic facility and spread into the massive mansion. Firefighters were proud of their aggressive stop, but club members were just thankful their prized art treasures were rescued.

Hollins Street Exchange. Stretching over a city block in a hilly section of southwest Baltimore, the Hollins Street Exchange was a group of multi-story buildings housing a furniture warehouse, apartments and other industries. The Pre-Fire Planning Data Worksheet told the story: "numerous renovations ... unprotected utility openings ... buildings abutting each other."

The complex was sprinklered but the vacant warehouse across tiny Lipps Street wasn't. That's where a fire started just after midnight on Nov. 9. Flames jumped the street into the occupied apartment building, bringing an 11-alarm response that included units from Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

When the fire was placed under control just after 7 A.M., only piles of bricks and the shell of the apartment building remained. Veterans say Hollins Street will go down as one of the city's major operations. Assistant Chief Gary Frederick sums it up by simply saying: "This was one of the queens."

The Clipper Mill. Between the victory at the Maryland Club and the loss of the Hollins Street Exchange, a fire at 3500 Clipper Road in northwestern Baltimore caused the death of a young firefighter and devastated the department.

The Clipper Mill Industrial Park was a part of early Baltimore history. The Poole and Hunt Co. turned out firefighting steamers there in the 1800s. Columns supporting the dome of the U.S. Capitol were cast in its foundry. Recently, a colony of artists were using Building 3, a large one-story warehouse that stretched over 450 feet into the complex.

On Saturday night, Sept. 16, an occupant noticed wires burning at a utility pole there. Flames also seemed to be coming from the roof of the 140-year-old structure. When Engine 21 pulled up, Lieutenant Steven Patrick saw fire enveloping the roof. Alone on the call, he requested a full box assignment.

Exposures were everywhere. The building directly behind the warehouse was so large it housed a rock climbing gym. Across the narrow alley was another web of multi-story industrial buildings. The lieutenant couldn't wait for the chief he struck second and third alarms. It was 9:48 P.M.

Responding as the department's public information officer, Battalion Chief Hector Torres expected another blaze in one of Baltimore's old mill buildings. A light rain was falling but radio chatter indicated that things were getting worse. For Torres that meant camera crews gathering shots for the 11 o'clock broadcast and calls from newspaper reporters. But this fire held some surprises.

Lieutenant Paul Novak and the members of Engine 13 heard the Clipper Mill turn into a quick second alarm. They rolled out the doors of their McMechen Street firehouse on the third. Heavy fire engulfed the center of the building and was rolling toward the rear exposures. Water was a problem, the shallow creek on the south side of the building denying both a drafting operation and access for apparatus. Units entering the narrow service road jockeyed for position. The good news was that first-due Engine 21 was getting help. The bad news: its tail-lights were melting.

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