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Firefighter who fell from ladder regains feeling in his legs, is expected to recover; W. Fayette St. fire's cause still under investigation


Baltimore firefighter Karl Zimmerman remembers falling 20 feet off a ladder while fighting a fire Wednesday morning. He remembers landing hard on his back. Most of all, he remembers losing all feeling below the waist.

"When I first hit the ground, I didn't have any motion," the nine-year veteran firefighter said yesterday from his hospital bed at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. "I couldn't move my feet at all, or even my legs."

Now the feeling has returned. Zimmerman, 36, is with Rescue 1, the elite group of firefighters who are called to perform the city's most dangerous rescues.

It might take a few months for him to recover from suffering one crushed and one broken vertebra. Doctors plan to operate today, and Zimmerman is expected to make a full recovery.

The two-alarm fire in the 900 block of W. Fayette St. was reported about 10: 45 a.m. A man in his 90s, who has not been identified, died of a heart attack in the fire. Fire officials said yesterday that they do not know how the blaze started, but that they are investigating kerosene heaters as a possible cause.

Zimmerman was trying to reach the trapped man though a second-floor window. He climbed a ladder, he said, and "stepped on a windowsill and grabbed the frame. I tried to pull myself in, but the window frame broke off in my hand and I fell backward."

The fire Wednesday was the fourth serious blaze Zimmerman has fought in three weeks. He also was at the Feb. 1 four-alarm Knickerbocker fire on Guilford Avenue, the Feb. 5 eight-alarm fire at Charles Center Tower and a two-alarm fatal fire in West Baltimore on Tuesday.

Zimmerman, who was visited yesterday by Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said he has wanted to be a firefighter since he was a teen-ager.

"It's a good way to spend a life," he said. "It's exciting. It's interesting. Sometimes it's scary. But I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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