3 city officers in right place at right time for fire rescue They save 5 people after being alerted to burning home nearby

July 15, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

Three city police officers with less than a year's experience on Baltimore's streets had just made a drug arrest yesterday morning when a frantic citizen ran up and shouted about people trapped in a burning house two blocks away.

The officers sped in a marked Geo Tracker to a three-story brick rowhouse at North Fulton and West North avenues and saw smoke pouring from the windows. They made their way inside and escorted two men to safety.

Then, Officer Brian E. Pearson climbed a smoke-filled staircase and found five people, including three young children, sleeping in a bedroom of the apartment. He woke them and got them out before firefighters arrived.

"I felt like I was burning up," said Pearson, who walks a beat in West Baltimore. "I just wanted to make sure everyone was OK. It happened so quick, I didn't have a chance to think."

No injuries were reported in the 10: 20 a.m. blaze thanks to the quick-thinking officers who rushed inside the house despite floor-to-ceiling flames.

"That officer was determined to get us out of the house," said 27-year-old April Banks, who escaped with her three children. "He really rescued us. If it weren't for him, we would have all died in that fire. We lost everything but our lives, and I thanked him for saving us."

Pearson, 25, and colleagues Todd F. Corriveau and Daniel F. Edwards, both 23, said they worked as a team to rescue the trapped residents. They have been on the street since December.

"Those police, I really feel they deserve a medal and a raise," said Bernadette Banks, April's mother. "If the police hadn't gotten my daughter and her children, they would have all been burnt up."

Bernadette Banks went into the building late yesterday where her daughter and three grandchildren have lived for about a year and said everything was destroyed. April Banks combed through the ashes again last night but could not salvage anything. She plans to stay with her mother until she can find housing.

"All of them were so lucky to get out," Bernadette Banks said. "The kids were a little scared at first, but they are fine now."

All three officers are among the first graduates of the Police Corps, a program that pays college tuition in exchange for a four-year commitment to the force. It is designed to attract better-educated officers, and Baltimore is one of two cities in the nation participating. The other is Charleston, S.C.

Fire officials said the blaze was first called in at 10: 19 a.m. and was under control by 10: 45 a.m. The one-alarm fire burned part of the first and second floors and caused damage estimated at $39,000.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres said careless smoking was the cause. Police said a lighted cigarette had been dropped in a bed by a man who dozed off. He later left his first-floor apartment without noticing the smoldering fire.

The American Red Cross said it was assisting a displaced family.

The five people rescued from the second floor were identified as: Banks and her children Antonio Howe, 10; Ricky Thomas, 6; and Kionna Phillips, 7; and visiting friend Robin Commodore, 31.

"We heard a booming sound and the next thing was the officer calling, 'Is anybody in there?' " said April Banks. "We knew the first floor was on fire. But, he got everybody out of the second floor and down the fire escape."

One of the occupants escorted from the first floor was Gary White, 41. He said the fire started in his cousin's apartment.

"I smelled smoke and looked in through a window and saw the bed was on fire," White said, adding that his cousin had left moments before the blaze erupted.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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