Seven firefighters injured in Northeast Baltimore fire; resident still in critical condition

Seven firefighters and two residents were injured in an explosion likely caused by gas at a Northeast Baltimore apartment complex Wednesday afternoon, according to fire officials.

Firefighters had been responding to a fire at the building on the 4400 block of Bowleys Lane after 3 p.m. when the explosion happened.

“Once units began to enter the building to make the attack, we ended up with an explosion,” said Roman Clark, a spokesman for the fire department.

The explosion “just went boom like that,” said Donna Nidiffer, who has lived in the building for more than 20 years and was inside earlier today. She raced out without a coat and without medicine to treat her diabetes.

“I had to run out like this. I’m a little bit in shock right about now,” Nidiffer said. Clark said the displaced residents would be able to stay in a vacant building that is part of the apartment complex.

Most of the victims suffered first- and second-degree burns and were taken to the burn center at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. As of Thursday morning, one resident was in critical condition at the hospital, the fire department tweeted. Of six firefighters taken to Bayview, two were released and four remained there for observation Thursday . A seventh firefighter, who was being treated at University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, also remained in the hospital for observation Thursday, according to the fire department.

Hours later, clouds of smoke continued to billow from the complex while firefighters worked with hoses to contain the flames. Workers with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. were digging a gas main to shut off gas and electricity from outside the building, according to a spokesman. In the meantime, gas continued to flow — and would until late in the night. Clark said firefighters were letting the gas “free burn” to prevent it from combusting. “As of now it is still burning because we can’t seem to get the gas off,” he said.

Clark said that once the gas had been shut off and the flames put out, firefighters would do a secondary sweep of the building to ensure that no one else remained inside.

Although he could not say with 100 percent certainty that the explosion was caused by gas, Clark said it was the most logical explanation.

The president of the local firefighters union said all seven injured firefighters were stable and that most of them would be released from the hospital tonight.

“They all seem to be in good spirits,” said Richard “Dickie” Altieri, driving on his way to visit the Bayview burn unit after leaving Shock Trauma. “They did a tremendous job. It’s a hard job.”

As firefighters continued to work, two neighbors approached the yellow “caution” tape, a comforter stuffed in their arms. They were looking for Nidiffer, the resident whom they’d watched on the news, arms bare in the early fall chill. Joyce Penny said, “We came out here to find her so she could stay warm.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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