Two young children and a man died as a two-alarm fire swept through their Curtis Bay home early Saturday. A woman, who neighbors said was the children's mother, was in critical condition after jumping from a second-story window.
Neighbors in the 4100 block of Grace Court described a chaotic scene after the fire broke out about 4 a.m. Some criticized the response of the Fire Department, saying units took too long to arrive on the scene. They said firefighters did not show a sense of urgency until the woman, who had escaped by the time they arrived, told them children were trapped inside. Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Ian Brennan defended the department's response and said the first fire engine arrived in three minutes.
The victims have not yet been identified, but neighbors said they were a girl about 5 years old who attended nearby Curtis Bay Elementary School and a boy about 18 months old. The man was their father, who died trying to save his girlfriend and their children, neighbors said. Brennan said the woman who escaped was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Nathaniel Faison, who lives on the block, said he was awakened about 4 a.m. by the sound of yelling. He said he saw smoke coming from his neighbor's house and ran outside, calling 911 at 4:02 a.m.
The children's father, whom Faison knew as "Chop," was at the second-story window of the home, nudging his girlfriend to jump out, Faison said. After she jumped to the ground, the father's brother, who lives across the street, yelled at him to jump as well, but Chop disappeared back into the house, presumably to rescue the children, Faison said.
"He could have gotten out safely, but he went back for his kids, so in my mind he's a hero," Faison said.
Faison and other neighbors said police officers arrived quickly and were there first, and that some officers tried to break down the door of the house. But Faison said it took "20 minutes" for the first engine to arrive, and that the firefighters unrolled a hose and went back to their truck and started talking, only moving more quickly to fight the fire once they were told that children were inside.
Brennan said the 911 call was dispatched at 4:05 a.m. and that Engine 57, which is stationed at a firehouse a third of a mile away, arrived at 4:08.
"I understand that when someone is on the scene, 10 seconds feels like a minute and a minute feels like an hour," Brennan said. "I don't have any indication that [firefighters] did anything other than their job."
Flames had spread to both floors by the time firefighters arrived, Brennan said, and the cause of the fire and whether the home had working smoke detectors is under investigation. Adjacent houses were severely damaged by smoke, fire and water.
"The firefighters attacked it as aggressively as we could, but sadly we couldn't save the three victims," Brennan said. The Fire Department may open an investigation into the response if a formal complaint is filed, Brennan said.
City Councilman Ed Reisinger, who represents the area, said he has been friends with a next-door neighbor of the family for 20 years and that the neighbor did not fault the Fire Department's response.
Reisinger said that after talking with his friend, other neighbors on the block and the fire chief, he was satisfied with the department's response. "I don't know what else to say except that it's a tragedy," Reisinger said.
Detective Jeremy Silbert, a Police Department spokesman, said officers were passing by when they noticed the fire and called it in at 4:03 a.m., then went through the block knocking on doors to alert neighbors to get out.
Saturday's fatal fire is the second such incident this year in Baltimore.
The Curtis Bay home was a rental; the owners could not be reached for comment. The entire row of six attached homes was apparently damaged, and the American Red Cross said volunteers were working with residents who had been displaced from four other homes.
Neighbor Robin Gwin was crying as she watched firefighters work on the scene a few hours after the fire began.
"Those kids were like my grandchildren," she said as her own children hugged her.
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