(AP) BALTIMORE Mistakes and safety lapses contributed to the death last fall of a Baltimore firefighter inside a burning rowhome, according to a draft investigative report.
Allan M. Roberts died was the first city firefighter to die in the line of duty in 11 years. Three months later, a fire recruit, Rachael Wilson, died during a training exercise that was fraught with safety violations. That prompted the firing of the training academy chief and a shake-up in command.
The (Baltimore) Sun obtained the report about the fire in which Roberts was killed. It says firefighters in the back of the house trained their hoses on the flames as Roberts and others went in through the front. Water from the hoses turned into steam, increasing the heat inside the building.
According to the report, Roberts struggled to get air flowing from his oxygen tank and apparently pulled his mask off. He lost consciousness and later died.
“The practice of using hose lines in an attempt to extinguish a fire from the exterior while other members are making an interior attack is unacceptable and dangerous,” the report concludes.
Mayor Sheila Dixon has read the preliminary report and is concerned with “eerily similar problems” related to the deaths of Roberts and Wilson, said her spokesman, Anthony McCarthy. Reports noted a lack of communication between firefighters in both cases.
McCarthy said the department has implemented new safety initiatives. “The culture, including the training, is changing,” he said.
Rick Binetti, a fire department spokesman, said the final report would be released in the next six weeks. The deaths of Roberts and Wilson “don’t reflect what the Baltimore City Fire Department is,” Binetti said. “This death of a firefighter is a rare occurrence.”
The fire in which Roberts was killed started in the afternoon of Oct. 10 inside a rowhouse on S. Macon St. in the Greektown neighborhood. Several people told 911 operators that they thought people were trapped inside, but that turned out not to be the case.
The report says Roberts and two other firefighters struggled to get to the second floor because of the reports of trapped people, even as other firefighters sprayed water on the flames from the outside.
As temperatures inside increased, the firefighters retreated down the stairs. Roberts screamed in pain and ran toward the front door before he fell and became “motionless and unconscious,” the report says.
Firefighters fight blazes from the exterior only after they determine that a building has been lost. The report says in this case, no flames were visible in the front of the home, but they were shooting out windows in the back, and firefighters on the opposite sides didn’t communicate with each other.
“Members in the rear stated in their interviews that they assumed that the entire building was involved in fire because of the conditions in the rear,” the report says. “This led them to believe that no one would be making an interior attack.”
Leaders from both unions representing Baltimore firefighters acknowledged that mistakes were made at the fire, but they played down any parallels between the deaths of Roberts and Wilson.
“There were some problems, absolutely,” said Rick Schluderberg, president of the union that represents firefighters. “The fire ground is not a training exercise.”
Said Stephan G. Fugate, the president of the Fire Officers Union: “Allan Roberts was an accident; we have a dangerous job.”