Apartment residents criticize performance of firefighters Saturday blaze destroyed 16 condos in west Balto. Co.


The performance of Baltimore County firefighters at a weekend blaze that destroyed 16 Rockland Run condominium apartments has come under sharp criticism from residents of the complex.

Saturday's four-alarm fire left two large, contiguous buildings on Snow Meadow Lane -- each with eight apartments -- in ruins. Some of the residents lost all their possessions.

Some occupants of the complex in west Baltimore County complained that firefighters initially stood around doing very little, did not run hoses quickly enough and did not aim the water at areas that seemed important to curbing the fire's intensity.

They also said that as a result of a fire several years ago, officials knew of a water-pressure problem in the area that could have hampered firefighters' efforts.

Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard, a Fire Department spokesman, said that about 125 firefighters with 30 pieces of apparatus responded to the pre-dawn fire. Fighting it was complicated by cold weather and because there was only frontal access to the building, he said, adding that firefighters initially concentrated on making sure everyone was evacuated from the two buildings.

"You cannot put water on a fire from outside a building if there is any chance there are people inside," Mr. Hubbard said. "According to our guys, things went step by step as quickly as they could."

During an emotional meeting attended by more than 100 residents Wednesday night, the complaints were presented to several fire officials -- with shouting from some of the people who lived in the ruined buildings.

Many angrily refuted fire officials' assertions that hose lines were immediately put out to battle the blaze, which began shortly before 4:30 a.m. and took about two hours to bring under control.

"I said to an officer, 'Why aren't you fighting the fire over there?,' and he said, 'Oh yeah,' and directed his men to begin pouring water on that section," said resident Michael Connell. "If I have to tell firefighters how to do their job, then they are not doing a good job."

Mr. Connell and several others also complained that their possessions were burning while fire personnel stood around drinking coffee and chatting.

"They really did not do a good job," said Ann Barnett. "Those fireman stood around doing nothing while those buildings were ablaze."

Chief Hubbard said an area that appears to a layman to be the focal point of a blaze may not be, and firefighters try to concentrate on dousing the most intense areaof a fire. He said that during an emotional event, seconds can feel like hours for victims, but he asserted that firefighters were busy battling the blaze.

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