2 men honored for braving flames to find 2 children 80 firefighters awarded medals

November 20, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Flames were shooting from the windows of a Southwest Baltimore house when Truck 8 arrived at the scene.

A bleeding man lay on the lawn, and his wife was screaming for someone to save their two children who were trapped inside.

Firefighter Louis Lago and one of his partners, Willie Faconer, tried to save the children, who were on the second floor of the blazing home in the 5000 block of Parkton St.

Mr. Lago went first. He climbed a ladder and smashed his way through the window. The heat immediately hit him in the face, burning unprotected areas of his ears and neck.

But he leaped head-first into the window and began crawling around in search of the children. He felt around until he recognized a crib. He reached up and found a 2-year-old lying in it.

Mr. Lago stood up -- suffering more burns from the intense heat -- snatched the child and made his way back to the window. He just rolled out onto a roof overhang, where he handed the baby to another firefighter who carried it down the ladder.

Mr. Faconer went in next. He searched until he found the other child. He then carried the 6-year-old out.

"We are in a job where people run out of a house, and we run in," said Mr. Faconer. "But to me, success in this life is measured by the positive impact you can have on other people's lives."

The Parkton Street blaze occurred on Dec. 20, 1991. Yesterday, the Fire Department recognized the bravery of Mr. Lago and Mr. Faconer by giving them its Meritorious Conduct Award. They were among 80 firefighters honored for their distinguished service at the department's first Medal Day Ceremony.

Some of the others being honored had led people from burning buildings, helped workers stranded on a 150-foot tower, even responded to a shooting in police headquarters. The awards program was held at the fire academy at 6720 Pulaski Highway.

For Firefighters Lago and Faconer, the awards ceremony offered a happy moment in what otherwise has been an agonizing experience. Despite their heroic work, the children they carried out of the burning house died.

Mr. Lago had taken it especially hard. He had encountered death during his seven years as a firefighter, but this had been different. The pain lingered. Maybe it was because he has a young son of his own. It could have been because it happened just before Christmas. Maybe it was the sight of the children's parents watching as he and other firefighters frantically, but futilely, tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Whatever it was, Mr. Lago couldn't shake the feeling, the sound, the smell of death from the fire on Parkton Street. "I thought I was a tough, inner-city firefighter, but I couldn't handle it," he said. While he was on leave, waiting for his burns to heal, Mr. Lago couldn't sleep. He missed meals and lost 16 pounds before finally submitting to counseling.

"I was a basket case," he said.

Slowly, he got over it. The counseling helped. Now, Mr. Lago is back to work. The first time he had to enter a burning building, he did not hesitate. He went right in. He credits the training of the department and the wisdom of the lieutenant who broke him in, Terry Ryer.

"One thing he instilled in me is that it's not bad to be sacred. But even if you are scared, you take that step beyond," he said.

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