BALTIMORE (AP) — Thousands of people gathered in Baltimore on Wednesday to mourn the loss of three firefighters who died after being trapped in a burning vacant townhouse when it partially collapsed last week.
The city’s convention center memorial drew firefighters and others from across the country.
Fire Chief Niles Ford thanked firefighters across the state who responded to calls while city firefighters attended the memorial, allowing the Baltimore City Fire Department to “mourn 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 January 24 fire, 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 townhouse as they pulled over and entered the building looking for anyone who might be trapped. But less than five minutes later – without warning – there was a cave-in that trapped firefighters inside.
The firefighters intervened to clear the rubble in order to rescue four colleagues. They reached injured EMT/firefighter John McMaster and he was taken to Shock Trauma, but the other three died: Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler, and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo.
McMaster was released from the hospital three days later to recuperate at home.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the cause and origin of the fire. A $100,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the identification of a “person of interest” captured by surveillance cameras the day before the fire.
“When we learned that we had lost them, it shook us to the core,” Governor Larry Hogan said in his address at the memorial. No words can bring lasting comfort to their families, but Hogan assured them that their lives, their memories and their ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.
“They will not be remembered for how they died, but for how they lived,” he said.
Sacrifice is the cornerstone of the firefighting profession, and Butrim, Sadler and Lacayo teach us that others come first, said International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly. They were told someone was in mortal danger, he said.
“They decided someone was worth dying for,” Kelly said. “Now that’s a little love.”
Before the memorial began, Tony Hall of Pasadena stood in front of the convention center, wearing a United States Navy sweatshirt while holding an American flag to pay his respects and say thank you.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said.
The legacy of deceased firefighters will be honored, Mayor Brandon Scott said.
“Each of them made the ultimate sacrifice for us. We all owe them our deepest sense of gratitude, honor and respect. Not just today, not just tomorrow, but forever, Baltimore will.” , Scott said, “Forever we will honor them.”
After the memorial, a procession carried the fire department flag-draped caskets to a suburban cemetery, which includes a fallen heroes section dedicated to public safety officers who have died in the line of duty. Hogan, Scott and firefighters lined the street as pallbearers carried three caskets to three fire trucks. Behind them, immediate family members of the firefighters walked together as the trucks passed under a huge American flag hung between two ladders.
Matthew Urso from Baltimore brought his children Michelle, 8, and Morgan, 4, to watch the procession. He helped his daughter hold an American flag as they watched the fire engines drive by in the procession.
“Just to show respect for our fallen heroes,” Urson said. “Most importantly, a learning experience for my children.
Along the route, firefighters and members of the public stood along bridges over the highway to pay their respects.