Bedridden man is rescued from rowhouse fire Pimlico blaze leaves 23 residents homeless

January 30, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Aaron Cummings did all he could yesterday morning to rescue a 74-year-old bedridden man who was trapped in a fire that damaged several Pimlico rowhouses and left nearly two dozen people homeless.

Mr. Cummings, 26, climbed to a second-floor landing, ripped a storm drain from a wall and used it to break a window. He got 4 feet from the bed, heard the man scream, but could not get close enough.

"I couldn't get him out," Mr. Cummings said yesterday, as he watched firefighters battle the blaze in the 3400 block of Paton Ave., a narrow street near Pimlico Race Course. "The fire was out of control. He was just yelling."

Firefighters arrived moments later and rescued Howard Beckett, who is paralyzed in both legs. Mr. Beckett was in full cardiac arrest, but rescue workers restored his heartbeat before taking him to Sinai Hospital. He was in serious condition last night.

Mr. Beckett's sister, Elizabeth Staley, got out safely with the help other neighbors after she also tried to rescue her brother.

The fire broke out about 9:30 a.m. on the second floor of 3425 Paton Ave., Mr. Beckett's home, which is off Park Heights Avenue. Fire investigators have labeled the cause accidental, most likely caused by careless smoking.

The Red Cross helped place the homeless, estimated by the Fire Department as 23 people. The fire burned out Mr. Beckett's two-story rowhouse, heavily damaged the second floor on two adjacent houses and burned the roofs on two others. Damage was estimated at $92,000.

Marquette Wilkes, 24, whose roof burned, said a "friendly neighbor came and rang the bell and said, 'Get out of the house, it's on fire.' She came through the house and helped me grab the kids."

Ms. Wilkes said she, her brother and 11 children -- including nieces and nephews ranging in age from 1 to 8 -- escaped but were forced to find shelter elsewhere. They had just moved in two months before.

The three-alarm fire took nearly two hours to bring under control. Firefighters said that once the flames reached the roof of the center rowhouse, they spread to adjacent homes through what is called a "cockwalk" -- an open area between the top floor ceiling and the roof that spans several rowhouses.

As firefighters hacked at the smoldering roofs to douse the hidden flames, neighbors gathered to watch and pray that the man they called "Mr. Howard" would be OK.

"By the grace of God, he's going to pull through," said Renarda White, 23, whose mother has taken care of Mr. Beckett for two years.

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