A fire engine rushing to a blaze in a West Baltimore row house collided with three cars and a city bus today in a spectacular crash that left one man dead and 22 persons injured.

The 15-ton fire engine collided with a car crossing its path at a busy intersection, then both vehicles plowed across a median strip into two cars and a bus taking on passengers.

Most of those involved in the accident suffered minor injuries, but the driver of the car that first collided with the fire engine was killed. He was identified as Michael L. Cherry, 28, an electrical engineer for Westinghouse Corp.

The 9:30 a.m. crash shattered the post-rush-hour quiet along a largely residential stretch of North Avenue, one of the city's main east-west arteries. Scores of residents who heard it ran to the scene and many tried to help the victims out of their vehicles.

"It sounded like a junkyard derby -- bam!" said Edward English, manager of a service station at North Avenue and Poplar Grove Street, across the street from the accident scene. "Then it was like ants. In less than three minutes there were about 300 people out here."

Cherise Brown, 22, who was at work in the cashier's booth of the Amoco station, witnessed the multivehicle pile-up. "It looked like little toys, the way it happened," said Brown, still shaken several hours after the accident.

Firefighters, who were on their way to a fire in the third floor of a row house, were traveling east on North Avenue just two blocks from the station when they slammed into Cherry's brown Toyota, which was crossing North Avenue, headed north on Poplar Street.

The two vehicles slid about 25 feet past the intersection on North Avenue, then jumped the median strip and plowed into two westbound cars, which then slammed into the bus at curbside. Witnesses said the bus, loaded with about 20 passengers, rocked so violently that they feared it would overturn.

Cherry's car was crushed between the fire engine and the other vehicles and it took rescue workers 35 minutes to free him. He was flown by helicopter to the University of Maryland Shock-Trauma unit where he was pronounced dead.

A half-dozen ambulances and another Mass Transit Administration bus were called to the scene to transport two automobile drivers, four firefighters and 16 bus passengers to three area hospitals. One firefighter suffered cuts and a dislocated shoulder when he was thrown from the vehicle, but he and most of the other victims had been treated and released by late today.

Police said they were still investigating the cause of the accident.

Fire Chief Robert Williams, who was supervising firefighters at the row house fire, heard an emergency radio call and rushed 15 blocks to the accident scene. Williams said the four firefighters aboard the fire engine and other firefighters following behind in a fire truck all said Cherry was traveling at high speed and ran a red light. He said the fire engine had sounded its alarm and had its lights flashing.

The blaze the fire engine was responding to occurred in a third-floor bedroom. Other equipment was brought in immediately after the accident, Williams said, and the fire was put out in about 10 minutes.