A fire company slated for closure played a key role in rescuing three children caught in a Sunday morning blaze in West Baltimore, the fire union said.

Truck 10, one of three companies the department is planning to disband, was among the first to respond to the fire in the 800 block of W. Lexington St. in the Poppleton neighborhood, said Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters union.

"It's a team effort, but certainly Truck 10 was in the mix, and they assisted all the rescues," Hoffman said. "Truck 10 brought two of the children out."

The children, believed to be about 7, 11 and 16 years old, were suffering from smoke inhalation, said Chief Kevin Cartwright. They were in serious condition at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center Sunday afternoon, he said.

Firefighters, who arrived at the burning building at 2:38 a.m., were told that people were trapped inside, Cartwright said. He added that some firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze while others searched for the inhabitants.

Heavy fire consumed the rear of the two-story apartment building, with thick black smoke billowing from the front, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that when firefighters arrived, a woman was outside screaming: "My kids are in there! My kids are in there!"

He said all three of the children were unconscious and one was not breathing when they were brought out of the building.

Truck 16, as well as engines 14, 23 and 8, among others, also played key roles in the rescue, the union president said.

Hoffman added that Truck 10 leads the city in commendations — awards given by the department for heroic actions.

"What's very important on these low-rise fires is knowing the way the buildings are set up," Hoffman said. "The way these guys know these places played a major part in saving these children."

The cause of the fire, which did not spread to other buildings, is under investigation. Whether the home had working smoke alarms also will be determined, Cartwright said.

In April, Baltimore's fire chief identified three fire companies he planned to disband: Truck 10 in the 1500 block of W. Lafayette Ave. in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore; Squad 11 in the 5700 block of Eastern Ave. in the Hopkins Bayview neighborhood of Southeast Baltimore; and Truck 15 in the Broadway East neighborhood of East Baltimore.

The closures would make permanent budget cuts that had been characterized as temporary two years ago, when the city carried out rotating closures of three fire companies. Officials said they had hoped the fiscal picture would improve and allow the companies to keep operating, but the city still faces a $48 million budget shortfall in its $2.3 billion operating budget.

Under the proposal, the city permanently loses three of 55 fire companies. Fire Chief James Clack said the move would cause no change in staffing and would not compromise public safety. Various companies will be shifted throughout the city to make up for the three closures, Clack said.

A fire company is made up of either a ladder truck or an engine and approximately 24 staff members.

Hoffman said the union appreciated Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's efforts to keep the fire companies open through rotating closures and urged the mayor to not make any closures permanent, as Clack has proposed.

"What we want to try to do is convince her that the rotating closures, even through they are bad, they are the lesser of two evils," Hoffman said. "I'd rather take my chances with that than knowing Truck 10 is closed permanently."

Cartwright did not immediately respond to questions about the union's statements.

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

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