Firefighting family copes with its loss

The Baltimore Sun

Cynthia Bury remembers the smoke and how she yelled for her mother-in-law upstairs to try to get to the roof. She knows she told her 11-year-old son to get out of the house.

But it all got fuzzy for Bury, a medic with the Baltimore County Fire Department, after she saw her elder son getting off the firetruck.

"They told me I passed out in the front lawn," she said.

On Nov. 6, fire engulfed 70 percent of the home of a family long involved with the county's fire service. The ending was not happy.

Myrtle Louise Bury, 70, died at a hospital after crews rescued her from the upstairs bedroom of the home in the English Consul neighborhood near Lansdowne.

Yesterday, two of her grandsons -- the volunteer firefighter who rode the first engine responding to the fire and the junior firefighter who called 911 from a neighbor's house -- were honored at a ceremony in Towson.

"A hero is a man who does all he can," County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said, quoting the French author Romain Rolland. "You did all you could."

Yesterday's occasion gave reason to smile and pose for pictures. But it was also emotional for the family, now living with a neighbor and still mourning.

Cynthia Bury's husband, Robert Bury Sr., a volunteer firefighter, fought back tears.

As a father, he said, he is proud of his sons and his daughter, who is a paid emergency medical technician in Dundalk. All of them went through the junior firefighter training program as youngsters.

But, Robert Bury said, "There are a lot of volunteers who never see this side of it.

"We forget sometimes we're protecting our own families," he said.

Robert and Cynthia Bury, their youngest son, Matthew, and Myrtle Bury lived in a two-story bungalow built in the 1930s.

It's about a quarter-mile from the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department station, where Robert Bury has been a volunteer since he was 12 years old.

After he and his wife met, Cynthia also became a volunteer EMT. About two years ago, she took a full-time, paid position as an EMT based in Halethorpe.

Their 24-year-old daughter, Melissa Rayner, an English Consul volunteer and a paid paramedic for the county Fire Department, is married to a fire lieutenant. And 20-year-old Robert Bury Jr. is engaged to an English Consul volunteer and paid EMT at the Halethorpe station.

Cynthia and Melissa are believed to be the only mother and daughter in the county fire service, officials said.

Myrtle Bury wasn't an official member of the English Consul station, but she was very much involved in the operations, said Chief Will Maddox.

"She was a special lady," Maddox said. "She'd adopted all of the kids at the Fire Department. She made sure they had what they needed."

She was also the type of grandmother who would "boogie-board" at the beach or go fishing, said Maddox, adding, "If Matthew wanted to play baseball, she was out there playing catcher."

The fire began about 1 a.m. that Tuesday. Cynthia Bury says smoke detectors and the sound of glass breaking woke her. Her husband was at work.

Robert Bury Jr. was on duty at the English Consul station.

"The whole way up, I had this weird feeling," he said yesterday.

Dispatchers initially reported the fire was at a different house on Alderwood Road. But when he heard the dispatchers say that a boy had called and said his grandmother was upstairs, Bury said, he began to suspect more strongly that it was his family's home.

On the truck with him was Nick Hannigan, 20, a newer member, and Ryan Santmyer, 23, an English Consul volunteer since he was 14 years old. Santmyer was also awarded a hero pin yesterday.

Maddox, the English Consul chief, was driving.

They saw Matthew coming down the street from a neighbor's house, where he had called 911. Cynthia was outside the house, said Maddox.

The steps leading upstairs were on fire, trapping Myrtle Bury, Cynthia Bury said.

Crews from Arbutus arrived, and after the fire on the stairs was hosed down, firefighters were able to get to the woman.

Robert Bury Jr.'s girlfriend, Jennifer Bitzel, was working on the ambulance that transported the elderly woman to St. Agnes Hospital.

Once the fire was under control, the crews from English Consul were sent back to the station to meet with crisis management teams, Maddox said.

Myrtle Bury was transported to the oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. She died there that afternoon, officials said.

Fire investigators have not been able to pinpoint a cause, said county Fire Department Director Glen A. Blackwell. But, he said, "There are no signs of foul play or any criminal activity."

Firefighters from English Consul and Lansdowne have collected money to help the family replace clothes and belongings, Maddox said. And co-workers are organizing a dance benefit for the family at the Violetville station.

The family expects to move into a mobile home that's been set up next to the burned house while it's either repaired or torn down and rebuilt, said Cynthia Bury.

The potentially disturbing possibility of answering an emergency call where the victim turns out to be a loved one leads some volunteers to work in stations outside their neighborhoods, firefighters said. But some who want to be able to help their closest neighbors take that risk.

"Being a volunteer in your community," said Maddox, "you know the next house you go to could be yours."

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