Dense black smoke was already pouring from the burning West Baltimore row house yesterday when Baltimore Police Officer Tom Anderson heard a faint cry coming from inside. It sounded like a baby.
Ignoring departmental warnings not to enter burning buildings, Officer Anderson put a thick handkerchief over his mouth and crawled on the floor toward the sound. A few minutes later he emerged from the building with the crying bundle safely in his arms.
He'd saved a cat.
"I really did think it was a baby," said a somewhat embarrassed Officer Anderson, a 33-year-old rookie officer in the city's Western District.
The rescue didn't go unnoticed by city firefighters, who pulled up to the vacant house in the 2000 block of West Fayette Street just as Officer Anderson came out with the gray stray. They brought the smoldering fire under control in a matter of minutes and then wanted a full account from the hero of the hour.
"It wasn't until everything was calmed down and under control that they started having fun," Officer Anderson said. "They said: 'Hey, did you save the cat?' They seemed to enjoy it."
and another officer spotted the smoke billowing from the row house about 12:38 p.m. and called the Fire Department. They were waiting for the engines to arrive when some bystanders told Officer Anderson that there was a baby in the building.
He went into the building once, didn't hear anything and cameout. Then he heard it -- a faint crying. Convinced that a baby might be dying, he went into the row house again, crawling blind through the dense smoke.
"At first, I was scared there was nothing I could do," Officer Anderson said. "I'd never been in a burning building before."
He got about 15 or 20 feet into the house before he found the cat and brought it out. Its whiskers were singed, but it did not seem to be hurt, he said.
The cat got frightened when the fire engines arrived with their sirens blaring and ran off. Officer Anderson finished his shift and went home.
He didn't tell anyone at district headquarters about his foray into the burning row house.
"If it was a baby, I would have said something," he said. "But to go in after a cat. . . . I didn't tell anybody that."