A Baltimore firefighter who was pulled from the wreckage of a burning vacant home that collapsed Monday is conscious and alert, the city fire department said Tuesday.
Emergency medical services transported John McMaster to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in critical condition after he and three other firefighters were trapped inside a vacant rowhome that caught fire around 6 a.m. in the 200 block of S. Stricker St. The three other firefighters died.
McMaster was placed on life support in an intensive care unit. His medical condition was upgraded to “fair,” according to the fire department.
“While he has a long way to go, I am incredibly optimistic, and we will continue to pray for and support EMT/FF McMaster and his family during his time of recovery,” Baltimore Fire Chief Niles R. Ford said in a statement.
McMaster was rescued from the crumbled building almost immediately.
Firefighter/paramedic Kelsey Sadler and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo, were located about an hour later and pronounced dead at Shock Trauma from cardiac arrest they suffered at the scene. Lt. Paul Butrim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Gov. Larry Hogan described the news of McMaster’s upgraded condition as “a great relief amid so much heartbreak right now.”
The incident is among the deadliest fires for Baltimore firefighters in recent memory. It comes just a few months after a mother and two of her children were killed in a rowhome blaze in East Baltimore that also injured several other children.
The last on-duty death for a Baltimore firefighter was in 2014, when Lt. James Bethea fell into the basement of a vacant home during a firefighting effort next-door and went unnoticed for hours. He died of smoke inhalation during the incident, which led to calls for reform.
Between 2006 and 2020, only about a dozen other fires in the United States claimed the lives of three or more firefighters, according to data compiled by the National Fire Protection Association.
Two unions that represent Baltimore firefighters and EMTs created a GoFundMe page Tuesday to raise money for the family members Sadler, Butrim and Lacayo left behind. Donations poured in. The fundraiser collected more than $40,000 in under six hours.
The firefighters entered the empty rowhome adjoined to an occupied house in the city’s New Southwest/Mount Clare neighborhood. The burning house partially collapsed while they were inside.
Butrim, known as “PJ,” was a 16-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department who rose to lieutenant from his position as an apprentice. Sadler was a 15-year veteran of the department and Lacayo was a seven-year veteran.
Tuesday, the home where the fire took place — 205 S. Stricker St. — was a hollowed out shell. Its façade and most of its interior had been completely destroyed. Part of the building’s back wall remained, along with still-smoldering piles of ash and debris. Crews began using lumber to support the walls of the two homes that still stood.
As a result of the fire, that home and the two on either side of it will have to be demolished after the investigation concludes, said Tammy Hawley, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. One of those homes — 203 S. Stricker — also was vacant, Hawley said. The other was occupied, although it’s unclear whether anyone was home at the time of the fire, said fire department spokeswoman Blair Adams.
Monday evening, Ford said firefighters chose to enter the home partly because one of the adjacent properties was occupied.
“They made the determination they could control the fire and put it out,” he said. “It’s up to those individuals on the scene to see the circumstances they have, and they did.”
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The home at 205 S. Stricker St. had last been inspected by city officials Jan. 4, Hawley said. The routine checkup, which wasn’t precipitated by a citizen’s 311 call, found that the building was adequately boarded up and cleaned. The building, vacant since 2010, had been condemned in 2015 after another fire, which injured three firefighters.
Efforts to reach the home’s owners were unsuccessful Tuesday.
The Mount Clare neighborhood where the home sits has the sixth most vacant buildings per acre of any neighborhood in the city, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of city data.
Tuesday, flags flew at half-staff at nearby Engine Company 14, which sits just across Hollins Street from a row of vacant, boarded-up homes.
The problem has become endemic to the city, with more than 15,000 vacant homes — the majority of them privately owned. The city uses citations, criminal penalties and tax sale foreclosures to address issues with the properties, Hawley said.
The destroyed home on Stricker had liens against it and had been offered up in previous tax sales, but there was no market for the property, Hawley said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Emily Opilo and Steve Earley contributed to this article.