City to approve $200,000 settlement in 2007 death of fire recruit

The city of Baltimore is expected to approve a $200,000 settlement Wednesday with the family of a fire cadet killed during a training exercise in a vacant building in 2007.

The family of Racheal Wilson, a 29-year-old mother of two, originally sought more than $10 million in a lawsuit. An independent investigation found that the Feb. 9, 2007, training exercise in which Wilson was fatally injured violated 50 national safety standards, and several high-ranking Baltimore fire officials lost their jobs.


Paul D. Bekman, one of the attorneys for Wilson's family, declined to comment on the settlement, citing a confidentiality agreement. Other attorneys for the family did not respond to requests for comment.

In requesting the settlement, the city solicitor's office said it "strongly disputes liability" in the case but recommended the settlement "given the unfortunate nature of the facts, and to avoid further time and expense in continued protracted litigation and the uncertainties and unpredictability of jury verdicts."


Wilson's death raised questions about the practice of setting fires in vacant buildings as a training exercise. The fires had been used to expose recruits to real-life conditions, but the practice was immediately discontinued.

Attorneys for the city defended such "live burns," saying they were "nationally recognized as acceptable, standard practices in fire departments throughout the country."

Ian Brennan, a spokesman, said the Baltimore Fire Department still does not use vacant buildings for training.

"We are pleased to have reached an agreeable settlement with the family," Brennan said.

The three-story rowhouse, at 145 S. Calverton Road in Southwest Baltimore in a block slated for demolition, was not approved for the fire exercise. Wilson was one of 24 recruits who took part. A fire was set on the second floor, and Wilson was on the third floor with two other trainees who were knocking holes in the building to ventilate it.

Her instructor tried unsuccessfully to pull her out of the building as the fire spread and Wilson's face began to blister from the heat. She was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she was pronounced dead.

An independent investigator found that Wilson had been given frayed protective gear, had failed part of an agility test and was not ready to tackle the complicated training exercise.

Wilson was responsible for holding the fire hose nozzle during the exercise but was knocked backward by the force of the water, as she had been in each of her previous training attempts, the investigator found.


While Wilson was being rescued, other firefighters entered the building and no evacuation horn was sounded. Instructors did not brief the recruits before the exercise, set seven or eight fires instead of the one that was permitted, and did not all carry radios, according to the investigation.

After the investigative report was released, Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway released a statement saying that Wilson's death should be considered manslaughter. Wilson's family and friends called it an avoidable tragedy.

In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department denied a nearly $300,000 benefit to Wilson's family after the Fire Department failed to submit paperwork establishing her eligibility for the money.