BALTIMORE (AP) — Thousands gathered in Baltimore on Wednesday to mourn the loss of three firefighters who died after they were trapped in a burning vacant rowhome when it partially collapsed last week.
The memorial at the city’s convention center drew firefighters and others from around the country.
Fire Chief Niles Ford thanked firefighters from around the state who responded to calls while the city’s firefighters attended the memorial, allowing the Baltimore City Fire Department to “grieve as a family.”
“To lose one member of the BCFD family is a terrible tragedy, but to lose three is almost unbearable,” Ford said.
Officials recounted the early morning response to the fire on Jan. 24, noting that just seconds before firefighters arrived on the scene, they received a report of people trapped inside.
Firefighters could see flames coming from the second and third floors of the rowhouse when they pulled up and entered the building searching for those who might be trapped. But less than five minutes later — without warning — there was a collapse that trapped firefighters inside.
Firefighters worked to clear the debris to rescue four colleagues. They reached injured EMT/firefighter John McMaster and he was taken to Shock Trauma, but the three others died: Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo.
McMaster was released from the hospital three days later.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the cause and origin of the blaze. A reward of $100,000 has been offered for information leading to the identification of a “person of interest” captured on surveillance cameras the night before the fire.
“When we learned that we’d lost them, it shook us to the core,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in his remarks at the memorial. No words can give their families lasting comfort, but Hogan assured them that their lives, memories and ultimate sacrifice won’t be forgotten.
Sacrifice is the cornerstone of being a firefighter, and Butrim, Sadler and Lacayo teach us that others come first, International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly said. They were told that somebody was in danger of dying, he said.
“They decided that that somebody was worth dying for,” Kelly said. “Now that’s some love.”
Sadler, 33, began her career with the fire department after graduating from high school in 2006, according to an obituary. Sister Lacey Marino remembered Sadler’s “strong words, strong feeling and very strong hugs” in her remarks at the memorial.
“Kelsey loved life and lived it like she meant it. All gas and no brakes, up for any challenge,” she said. “She was loyal. Loyalty was tattooed on her wrist and if you were one of her people there was nothing she wouldn’t do for you.”
Battalion Chief Joshua Fannon remembered 37-year-old Butrim’s leadership, sense of humor, love of camping and sports. Butrim, who was honored with a valor award in 2015 for rescuing a child trapped in a fire. He dreamed as a lieutenant of working with Truck Company No. 23 and last year that wish came true, Fannon said.
Lacayo, 30, of Silver Spring, joined the department in 2014, according to an obituary. He was also a member of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad, where he was named paramedic of the year in 2016. Fiancee Clara Fenelon remembered a life full of adventure with Lacayo, traveling and attending concerts, one of his favorite activities.
“I was on top of the world with my Kenny,” she said. “Those flames burned our live together, our dreams, the family we so desperately wanted.”
After the memorial, a procession carried the firefighters’ flag-draped caskets to a suburban cemetery, which has a fallen heroes section dedicated to public safety workers who die in the line of duty. Hogan, Scott and fire officials lined up along the side of the street as pallbearers carried three caskets to three fire engines. Behind them, the firefighters’ immediate family members walked together as the trucks passed beneath an enormous U.S. flag suspended between two ladder trucks.
Matthew Urso of Baltimore brought his children Michelle, 8, and Morgan, 4, to watch the procession. He helped his daughter hold a U.S. flag as they viewed the firetrucks passing by in the procession. Along the route, firefighters and members of the public stood along bridges above the highway to pay their respects.