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Three Baltimore firefighters die after burning rowhouse collapses

A fourth was on life support after early-morning blaze consumed the vacant building

Three Baltimore firefighters died on Jan. 24 and a fourth was on life support after a burning rowhouse collapsed and trapped them inside. (Video: The Washington Post)

Three Baltimore firefighters died Monday and a fourth was on life support from injuries they sustained inside a burning rowhouse that collapsed and trapped them inside the vacant property around sunrise, city officials said.

Rescuers were able to immediately pull one firefighter from the three-story building in the 200 block of South Stricker Street, but two others remained trapped for about an hour, said Baltimore City Fire Chief Niles R. Ford. Rescue crews worked to remove a fourth firefighter, but he was later pronounced dead at the scene, officials said at an evening news conference.

Medics transported the three injured firefighters to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Ford said.

Authorities identified the firefighters who died as Lt. Paul Butrim, who served for 16 years; firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler, who served 15 years; and firefighter/paramedic Kenneth Lacayo, who spent seven years with the department, officials said. EMT/firefighter John McMaster remained at the hospital in critical but stable condition, officials said.

Family members of Butrim and Sadler declined to comment Monday evening. Lacayo’s father, Jose Antonio Lacayo, said his son was a D.C. native who went to Wheaton High and Montgomery College. He started as an EMT and became a firefighter because he “loved the life” and was concerned with helping others.

Jose Antonio Lacayo said that “nobody expected this.” He described his son as a “caring” person who got along well with everybody.

“He was a wonderful son, and I was really proud of him,” he said.

As a charge medic and paramedic, Lacayo was among members of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad who received a unit citation for “exemplary performance and care” provided to a seriously injured person in June 2018, according to the squad’s Facebook page.

Butrim received a 2015 valor award from Firehouse magazine for rescue efforts he made at an apartment fire. He searched ahead of a hose team, found a trapped child facedown in a bedroom and brought the child out. He began CPR until EMS personnel arrived, according to the award citation. Honorees were recognized for “great bravery” in the face of danger, according to the Firehouse.com website.

Baltimore Fire Battalion Chief David M. Goldman, secretary and treasurer of the Fire Officers Union Local 964, said the entire department is “in shock.” He added: “We’re all one big family. It’s really tough when you lose one firefighter, but when you lose three, it’s unthinkable.”

Goldman, a 33-year veteran who is assigned to a firehouse in Southeast Baltimore, said that he had met all three firefighters who died but that he was too distraught to talk about them in detail. “They were all very dedicated, very heroic,” he said. “They woke up in the middle of the night and ran into fire to do their job.”

Other officials in Baltimore and elsewhere also offered condolences.

“Today Baltimore has lost three of the bravest among us. Baltimore owes them the deepest gratitude and respect we can offer anybody,” Mayor Brandon Scott (D) said at the news conference. “This is a gut-wrenching tragedy for our city, for our fire department and most importantly for the families of our fire department.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered flags lowered to half-staff.

“Each and every day, our firefighters and first responders answer the call and are ready to run into danger — this is our worst nightmare,” he said in a statement. “I call on all Marylanders to honor the memories of these brave souls, and pray for their families and fellow firefighters.”

Doctors pronounced two of the firefighters dead at the hospital, city and hospital officials said. Shock Trauma’s physician in chief, Thomas Scalea, said that Sadler and Lacayo both were in cardiac arrest before they left the scene and that hospital efforts could not revive them.

“Our hearts go out to all the families,” Scalea said. “We pride ourselves on bringing our A game; sadly this morning our A game wasn’t enough.”

The deaths followed a two-alarm response to the vacant structure about 6 a.m., fire officials said. Images posted by fire officials in the fire’s aftermath showed a burned-out shell of a house, without a roof or floors between the stories.

Ford said firefighters battled the blaze inside the vacant rowhouse to prevent it from spreading to nearby occupied homes.

“We could be talking about more lives lost if not for the heroics of today,” Scott said. “We have to be thankful for them. We have to be thankful for those we lost today and remember them and honor them.”

First responders from across the city formed an honor guard Monday afternoon to walk alongside a medical examiner’s vehicle as it left the hospital, according to local news media reports.

The fire chief said the cause of the fire remained under investigation, but he turned his focus toward helping members of the department take care of the families of those lost, to offer prayers and to help themselves.

“My goal today is that we heal, that we turn inward and that we all take care of each other,” Ford said.

Alice Crites, Peter Hermann, Emily Davies and Jasmine Hilton contributed to this report.

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