Colleagues accuse Baltimore fireman of balking at blaze in which girl died They say he froze on stairs to 2nd floor of rowhouse, where her body was found

December 04, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore firefighter is being accused by colleagues of balking and blocking a stairway of a burning rowhouse during a search for a missing child who later was found dead.

There is no evidence that the delay, about 90 seconds, contributed to the death on Thanksgiving of 7-year-old Randi E. McDonald, whose body was found in a rear bedroom on the second floor of the three-story rowhouse in the Upton neighborhood.

But at the time the firefighter, identified as James Williams, 46, was ordered up the stairs, rescuers at the scene did not know whether the child was alive. Failing to search for a victim, even in the most perilous conditions, is considered a breach of the firefighter's oath.

Colleagues of the firefighter, who recently transferred to one of the city's busiest stations, are denouncing the alleged misconduct.

"It's an affront to what we do," one fire commander said.

Several officials, who spoke on the condition their names not be used, said the firefighter had to be removed from the stairwell, where he froze.

"It came as close to an altercation as you can get," one source said.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a department spokesman, confirmed that commanders are investigating Williams, a seven-year veteran. After the fire, Williams was placed on medical leave for stress.

Williams is assigned to Engine Company 13, at McMechen Street and Madison Avenue in West Baltimore, which is about four blocks from the house that burned in the 500 block of McMechen St., near Pennsylvania Avenue.

Torres cautioned that investigators have not interviewed Williams or other firefighters involved, because they were off work yesterday. He said he is worried that preliminary information may lead people to falsely conclude that Randi's death could have been avoided.

"My concern is the impression that the family of the victim may get from your report," Torres said. "The home was completely engulfed when firefighters arrived. There was no chance of survival for the victim."

Williams could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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