Three city firefighters rescue infant boy from burning rowhouse

April 09, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki and William B. Talbott | Joe Nawrozki and William B. Talbott,Staff Writers

Three city firefighters rescued a baby in heroic fashion yesterday from a burning Southwest Baltimore rowhouse, with one of the men scooping the infant out of its crib while the other cleared a path through the flames.

"The fire was on the second floor when I arrived," said Firefighter William Raab, 25. "We knew there was an infant trapped inside, and we knew we had to get to it. I just kept on praying that I would get to him and he wouldn't be dead."

He and his partner, Firefighter Darryl Williams, 23, managed not only to get in but also out of the burning rooms of the home in the 200 block of S. Payson St. Firefighter Dan Stallings also assisted after the infant had been retrieved.

The baby, 5-month-old Sean M. Rager, was burned on the head and arms and was listed in critical condition last night at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"It was my first rescue," Firefighter Raab said. "I want to pray that he lives."

Three other occupants of the house were being treated last night at the Francis Scott Key Medical Center's burn unit.

The one-alarm fire began shortly after 8 a.m., apparently after the infant's 4-year-old brother, Daniel Biggs, had been playing with a cigarette lighter in an upstairs bedroom. Daniel escaped unharmed.

It quickly engulfed the second floor, and two of the other survivors, Dorothy Whitaker, 40, and Robert Houck, 23, jumped from the burning house. Ms. Whitaker was listed in fair condition and Mr. Houck as critical.

The smoke became so thick that two city police officers were beaten back and were unable to get to the infant, according to fire and police reports.

Officer John Elton said he then told arriving firefighters that a baby was trapped in the house.

Firefighter Raab, of Engine Company 8, said he trudged up the steps in full gear and breathing apparatus and saw Firefighter Williams, of Engine Company 14, manning a fire hose and clearing a path through the flames to the baby's room.

"The door was closed, and when I opened it it was like you would open your oven door, only more intense," he said. "It was very smoky and my equipment was fogging up, but I found the crib.

"He was laying face down under a heavy blanket, and when I reached down to get him I noticed the burns on his head and arms," he said. "I grabbed him into my arms and felt his chest rise. . . . I knew that he was alive."

With other firefighters suppressing the flames, Firefighter Raab clutched the infant to his coat and headed back down the stairs.

"Stallings was in front of me yelling, 'Make a hole, make a hole, he's got the baby!'

"I got to the front door and just rushed to the medic so they could get him to the hospital."

Battalion Chief Joseph Dillon said the infant's chances for survival were increased by the fact that his crib was on the floor and thus was not as exposed to smoke.

Firefighter Williams, a self-described "rookie" at 23, said his part in the successful rescue "was a personal thing. It's like you appreciate life when you get a chance to do something like that."

The infant's mother, Candy Biggs, had just taken her other child, Joshua Biggs, 5, to school when the fire broke out, firefighters said.

Chief Dillon said he was told that Ms. Whitaker had been left in charge of the children.

Also injured was Ms. Whitaker's 13-year-old daughter, Tammy Whitaker, who was listed in fair condition at the Key burn unit.

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