The Washington Post

Two injured Pr. George’s firefighters face long recoveries

Two Prince George’s County firefighters who were critically injured when a wind-fueled fireball blew through a burning house are in stable condition, but both men — members of the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department — face long, painful recoveries, authorities and family members said Sunday.

Ethan Sorrell, 21, sustained respiratory burns “through his esophagus and down to his lung,” and Kevin O’Toole, 22, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body when a basement fire Friday night suddenly turned a small Riverdale Heights house into a blast furnace, fire spokesman Mark Brady said.

O’Toole is scheduled for skin-graft surgery Monday and will be in the burn unit at the Washington Hospital Center for six weeks. He faces six months of rehabilitation beyond that, his father, Jeff — who is also a firefighter — said during an emotional news conference at the hospital.

Doctors won’t know the full extent of the damage to Sorrell’s burned airway until they remove a breathing tube, authorities said.

His father, Vann — a volunteer firefighter in Buies Creek, N.C. — welled up when asked about his son’s bravery. “When you go into it, you know the dangers,” Sorrell said. But the Sorrell men “just have that need to serve,” he said.

His son is unable to speak but has been communicating with a pen and paper. He seems to be in decent spirits, Prince George’s Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said: “The first thing Ethan wrote to me on a comment was [that] the medic who transported him was hot.”

Five volunteer firefighters were treated and released for burns and other injuries suffered in what Brady characterized as a “freak occurrence.”

One was Michael McClary, who returned to the hospital Sunday, bandages wrapped around his hands, his heart heavy. “He’s still upset that he got to go home and his brothers didn’t,” said his mother, Cheryl.

Michael, she said, wasn’t up to discussing publicly what happened at the house, where wind gusts apparently shot a column of flame up the stairs, through the first floor and out the front door.

The fire was extinguished quickly, said Bladensburg Fire Lt. Adam Cole, who was directing a group in the basement at the time of the fireball. But the emergency call, he said, “hasn’t stopped for us yet. It won’t stop until [the injured firefighters] come home.”

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.


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