Firefighter may have provided breath of life for infant

January 28, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr.

It was all a blur -- a thick, gray blur.

Firefighter Charles J. Campbell was on a rescue attempt in the 1300 block of Harlem Avenue in West Baltimore early yesterday when someone leaned out of a smoke-filled third-floor window and handed him something as he stood on an aerial ladder.

Thick gray smoke escaped the window and forced tears in Mr. Campbell's eyes. He wasn't sure what the person had handed him at first. When his eyes cleared, he realized that the blur was an infant who had been handed to him by a woman.

"It was the mother and she handed me her baby who wasn't breathing. She kept saying 'The baby's not breathing, the baby's not breathing,' " Mr. Campbell recalled.

The child was limp, seemingly lifeless and without a pulse. When Mr. Campbell held the infant, he was unsure if it was alive or not.

Perched atop the ladder, he instinctively began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"I took one breath, two breaths, nothing happened," Mr. Campbell said. "It was smoky and I still didn't know if it was alive or not."

Mr. Campbell made three more attempts at CPR, then, fearing for the safety of the others inside, passed the child to another firefighter several rungs below him and then helped four others from the burning rowhouse.

"I figured the child might be dead, but with my initial shot of CPR, I figured it had a chance. You're looking for the best, but expecting the worst," he said.

The child, identified as 18-month-old Lea F. McKory, regained consciousness shortly afterward, while in the ambulance en route to the hospital.

Firefighters rescued seven people -- including five children -- from the blazing house. They were taken to the University of TC Maryland Medical Center, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and released.

All of the people routed by the flames lived in a third-floor apartment above the apartment where the fire began.

Fire officials said that the infant girl may have died if not for the actions of Mr. Campbell, a seven-year fire department veteran who is stationed at Truck 10, located in the 1500 block of West Lafayette Street.

"When I got there they were screaming and hollering and all of their eyes were as big silver dollars," Mr. Campbell said of the fire victims.

"I was scared that they were all going to try and get on the ladder at once. I was scared but was trying to act calm so they wouldn't be scared. One girl was scared of the ladder and didn't want to move or come out of the house."

The fire, which began shortly after 5 a.m. at the three-story brick Harlem Avenue house, was later determined to have been arson, deliberately set with a flammable liquid at two locations in a second-floor apartment.

Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman, said that fires were started in both the front and back of the apartment. No one was in the apartment at the time of the blaze, and the apartment was not equipped with a smoke detector.

Investigators have not determined a motive for the fire and no arrests were made.

Pamela Hunter, 23, who has rented the second-floor apartment since early January, said that the apartment had been without electricity since Saturday, when workers from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. found a faulty circuit breaker.

Because the apartment did not have electricity, she stayed at a relative's house on Sunday and was not home when the blaze began. Ms. Hunter said her boyfriend and another friend were staying in the apartment on the night of the fire.

Neighbors, many of whom witnessed the fire, said the building is often frequented by homeless people and drug users.

"There's a vacant apartment on the first floor that I know people go into just for the night," said a neighbor. "Sometimes they've got a board there that people either kick or take down so they can get in. Sometimes the board is not there."

Rodney Jones, a neighbor, said he heard screams coming from the vacant apartment when the blaze erupted. At first, he thought it was a woman screaming, but he soon realized that it was the sound of screaming children. "That's the worst thing you can ever hear," Mr. Jones said.

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