Twice, George H. Falter Jr. had run for local office, each time emphasizing the need to reduce the cost of insurance for small businesses.
Yesterday he stood outside the charred remains of his Southeast Baltimore upholstery business, and noted how the issue raised during his unsuccessful campaigns for the House of Delegates in 1986 and the City Council in 1987 had come back to haunt him.
"I didn't have any insurance," Mr. Falter said. "The rates were so high [that] had I gotten it, I would have had to charge so much that I would have gone out of business."
The four-alarm fire at Able Industries, a three-story brick building sandwiched between a tin plating firm and a garage used to store ice cream trucks, was discovered just before 11 a.m. by a woman standing on her rear porch nearby.
Within 20 minutes, 36 pieces of fire apparatus and 115 firefighters were dispatched to the blaze in the 1200 block of South Highland Avenue, said Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman.
Captain Flynn said the fire originated in the southeast corner of the unused third floor of the building. The cause is still under investigation, he said.
It took nearly two hours for firefighters to bring the blaze under control as they hand-carried hoses and other equipment through narrow alleyways to reach the blaze.
As flames pierced the roof, heavy smoke enveloped the neighborhood, reducing visibility at times to only a couple of feet.
When it was over, only the burned-out remains of the upholstery business remained. Adjoining businesses escaped without any major damage. Fire officials estimated damage to the upholstery building at $150,000 and said there were no injuries.
Mr. Falter, who did not own the building, lost all the equipment and inventory of his family-operated upholstery business, which officials valued at $50,000.
He said he also lost some antiques and magazine collections that he had been storing in the building.
"It's awful," Mr. Falter said. "This was what you called your true family business. My wife [Jean Falter] and I ran the business. My son [James Falter] was the manager; my daughter [Laura Falter] was the office manager." In addition there were six employees.
"That's my life right there. Most people have a pension to rely on. I don't," said the 56-year-old businessman.
Mr. Falter said he could see the smoke from the building as he drove down Interstate 95. "I didn't need anyone to tell me anything. It was right before my eyes. My life literally went up in smoke right before my eyes."