Apartment fire traps woman Firefighters carry disabled resident from burning building

'It's getting hot'

Blaze traced to heating unit

smoke alarm fails

March 18, 1998|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Trapped in her burning Westminster apartment early yesterday, a disabled woman was given calm instructions and ** reassurance that help was on the way in a dramatic five-minute telephone conversation with a Carroll County emergency dispatcher.

"Oh God, it's getting hot," 31-year-old Diane Ruth Baylus gasped before a roaring sound is heard in the tape-recorded call.

By the time firefighters reached her, she had been overcome by the smoke and heat and was critically burned. She was hospitalized yesterday and was in critical condition last night.

The roaring was a flashover, "a buildup of heat, and everything catches fire at one time," said Kevin Utz, a paramedic who treated Baylus at the scene. The flashover apparently occurred just as firefighters were entering the apartment.

Baylus was unconscious as firefighters Jim Starry and Jay Wallace pulled her out of the burning first-floor apartment.

Paramedics put an air tube down her throat to help her breathe before she was flown by state MedEvac helicopter to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She had second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body.

Baylus called 911 at 12: 30 a.m. and managed to stay on the line with dispatcher Doug Wallace for over five minutes.

Obviously frightened but controlled, she told Wallace that the electric heater in her apartment at 16 Pennsylvania Ave. was on fire. She said she was unable to get out of the ground-floor apartment because the heating unit was blocking the way to the door.

She also said that her smoke detector had not worked.

Wallace asked if she was handicapped, and Baylus replied, "Yes, I am disabled, but I can walk."

He tried to help her to find a way out or into another room, but there was no way out without going past the burning heating unit. She was coughing and could barely breathe. The carpet was on fire and the apartment filled with smoke.

"You just need to stay calm, stay calm," Wallace said.

Baylus said she was under the covers in bed, and he told her to get down on the floor. A couple of minutes later, the smoke made her sick and she began vomiting.

Four minutes and 10 seconds after the call came in, the police can be heard asking where she is, and she tells them she's in the bedroom. Then more banging is heard.

"I can't breathe," Baylus told the dispatcher. "Oh God, it's getting hot."

Baylus' brother, Allen Baylus of Finksburg, said his sister had moved into the apartment a few weeks ago. Her disability came from injuries suffered in an auto accident.

New apartment, new job

Allen Baylus' wife, Jolee, said that when Baylus moved into the apartment, its refrigerator, dryer and stove didn't work. The heater had broken over the weekend and repairmen were supposed to have come and fixed it Monday, but didn't show up, she said.

"She has chronic bad luck," Jolee Baylus said. "She was starting a new job in Florida and was supposed to fly to Daytona tomorrow."

Diane Baylus had worked in various jobs in the medical field and had an associate's degree. She enjoyed helping others, Jolee Baylus said.

She described her sister-in-law as "a very beautiful person inside and outside," and "a very kind-hearted person" who loved animals. "This didn't have to happen," she added.

Jolee Baylus praised the firefighters who responded to the fire, crediting them with saving her sister-in-law's life.

Allen Baylus said doctors told them that the first 24 to 48 hours were critical in Diane's recovery.

Heating unit blamed

An investigation yesterday by the state fire marshal's office found that a malfunction in the wall-mounted heating and air-conditioning unit in the hallway outside the bedroom caused the fire. A hard-wired smoke detector in the apartment failed to function.

Utz noted that none of the smoke detectors in any of the nearby apartments were sounding during the fire, as they should have ** been from the intense flames and heat.

A neighbor, Thomas Rogers, said the fire marshal's office checked all of the smoke detectors in the complex early yesterday.

Damage to Baylus' apartment and property was estimated at $30,000. The upstairs apartment in the motel-like, two-story building suffered minor damage.

Residents were evacuated during the blaze, which was brought under control in 25 minutes by about 50 firefighters and rescue personnel from Westminster, Reese, Pleasant Valley, Manchester and Winfield, authorities said.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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