2-Year-Old Triplets Injured in Fire

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Montgomery County firefighters rushing to a blaze at a stately brick home off Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda yesterday were met about a half-block away by a group of panicked neighbors.

"We were all yelling, 'Triplets! There's three! There's three!' " said Dana Rice, one of the neighbors. "Everybody knows it's the home with the triplets."

Firefighters raced inside the smoke-filled house, climbed a staircase and pulled 2-year-old triplet boys from three white cribs.

Late yesterday, the toddlers were all in critical condition, and one was more seriously injured than the others, fire officials said. Two of the firefighters who carried the children to safety suffered steam burns to their ears, necks and fingers. The boys' father also was recovering from minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined that electrical problems, possibly related to a hot tub on the back deck, were to blame, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Emergency Services.

The fire began shortly after 1 p.m. The toddlers were in the house, in the 4800 block of Jamestown Road, with their nanny and their father, identified by neighbors as Michael Petrucelli, a former Homeland Security official. The nanny, who was outside talking to her husband, was the first to see smoke coming from the back of the house, Piringer said. She alerted Petrucelli, who was inside the house, and he tried to extinguish the blaze with a garden hose, Piringer said.

By the time Petrucelli abandoned that effort, racing to call 911 and retrieve the children, flames and smoke had permeated the house. Petrucelli tried to fight his way to the toddlers' nursery. As firefighters arrived about 1:30, he was running from the two-story brick home, bloodied and covered in soot.

Black smoke was pouring from behind the home. Fire Capt. Kimonti Oglesby said he asked Petrucelli where the staircase would be when he entered the front door.

"I went in, but the smoke was thick and there were car seats and strollers and toys all over," Oglesby said. "I found my way to the staircase, but there were flames. In a second, my ears were burning, and I had to pull back."

Oglesby soon realized that the entire western side of the second floor, away from the children's room, was on fire.

He retreated from the house and with other firefighters blasted water onto the flames. Two firefighters made a second attempt, racing up the stairs and into the nursery. Oglesby followed, and he and another firefighter pulled one of the three boys from a crib, he said. All three toddlers were rushed outside.

Steam, generated in part from the water sprayed into the house, probably burned the first two firefighters who rushed to get the children, fire officials said. But it was the condition of the children that worried firefighters much more.

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