In the line of duty

September 19, 1995

IT HAS to be on their minds any time firefighters head to their trucks to answer an alarm. There's always the possibility of serious injury or death. Of course, they have to put such thoughts away in order to do their job right. To dwell on anything other than the task at hand is asking for trouble. You must concentrate on the fire.

That's what Eric D. Schaefer was doing Saturday night. Only a fireman 18 months, he was trying his best to remember and use all the lessons he had learned from more experienced colleagues. They were trying to open an overhead door of an old foundry in Clipper Industrial Park when a stone wall fell on them. Seventeen were injured. Mr. Schaefer, 25, was killed.

The death of a firefighter in the line of duty is a constant threat, but it's not typical. That only 12 Baltimore firefighters have been killed since 1955 -- half of them in one blaze 40 years ago -- is an indication of the fire department's professionalism and great regard for safety. Sometimes, though, that's not enough to stop a tragedy such as Mr. Schaefer's death.

About 150 firefighters using 55 pieces of equipment battled the blaze for four hours before bringing it under control. Their work was complicated by the 140-year-old building's age and problems reaching it via the narrow streets of Woodberry. Commendations are in order for keeping the ornery fire from spreading further than it did.

The inadequacy of words is no more apparent than at times such as these. But to the family of Firefighter Schaefer, including his bride of only two months, this city must offer its sincere condolences and gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice this fireman made.

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