Fire officer died after carrying hose alone into building

January 29, 1991|By Roger Twigg

The Baltimore fire lieutenant who died Sunday night after an apparent heart attack had carried a hose into a burning West Baltimore building alone because of the ordered reduction in the size of Fire Department crews, fire officials said yesterday.

However, it is not yet known if the exertion of carrying the 75-foot-long polyester hose, weighing about 45 pounds, up the stairs to the second floor of a building in the 800 block of West Lombard Street contributed to the heart attack, the officials said. An autopsy has been scheduled.

The death of 47-year-old Fire Lt. John N. Plummer, a 23-year veteran, came as members of the City Council met yesterday to discuss the controversial staffing reduction in the department that has resulted in apparatus' being manned by three firefighters rather than the customary four.

Under prior standards, Lieutenant Plummer would have served as a supervisor at the site of the fire, or at most would have assisted another firefighter in carrying a hose into the burning building, officials said.

Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman, said it would not be possible to say whether the exertion of a fully equipped firefighter carrying a hose into the building alone contributed to the heart attack.

"We've had this happen with five-men units," Captain Flynn said. "You work hard on the fire scene. An officer doesn't just stand around. He works hard, too."

But Jeff DeLisle, president of Firefighters Local 734, brought up the firefighter's death before about a dozen City Council members who met yesterday in a previously scheduled session to discuss staffing and overtime problems within the department.

Before the meeting, Mr. DeLisle told a reporter that another firefighter should have been assisting the lieutenant in carrying the hose.

Captain Flynn said Lieutenant Plummer, who had been assigned to Engine Company 23 at the Steadman House in the first block of South Eutaw Street, was the first to arrive on the scene of Sunday's fire.

One firefighter was dropped off by a hydrant, and a second remained with the apparatus to regulate the water flow into the hose carried into the building by Lieutenant Plummer.

"It was an exciting fire. It was very stressful," Captain Flynn said. "Fire was showing, and there were reports of people trapped in the building."

It turned out that no one was home.

After carrying the hose to the second floor of the building, Lieutenant Plummer returned outside to make sure the hose had no kinks and to give the pump operator the all clear to turn on the water.

Captain Flynn said the lieutenant then took a few more steps and collapsed.

Paramedics worked on the lieutenant for about 15 minutes before he was taken to University Hospital, where he died about an hour later.

Other firefighters who had responded to the fire -- caused by a candle used for light -- brought the blaze under control within 12 minutes. No one was injured.

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