3 firefighters hurt in North Avenue blaze

$120,000 worth of damage at Schoolhouse building

May 13, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Three firefighters were injured yesterday morning when a burning North Avenue apartment building in East Baltimore partially collapsed, sending a shower of debris onto their heads and hampering efforts to fight the five-alarm blaze.

The fire broke out at 5 a.m. in the rear of Schoolhouse Apartments in the 2000 block of North Ave. and took more than 125 firefighters more than three hours to extinguish. The building, which closed in February, was vacant except for one homeless squatter, whom firefighters rescued, Baltimore fire spokesman Michael Maybin said.

Initially, firefighters battled the flames from inside the building, but were told to evacuate because the building appeared unsafe. Three firefighters near a stairwell were trying to leave when the stairwell collapsed, Maybin said.

Two firefighters were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, one with a fractured ankle and the other with neck and back injuries. A third was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital with a laceration to his forehead. None of the injuries is life-threatening, Maybin said.

Firefighters continued to battle the blaze from the outside until about 7:40 a.m., when the building was deemed safe to re-enter. About 30 minutes later, the fire was under control.

The three-floor historic building, which sustained $120,000 worth of damage, was one of six vacant school buildings converted into subsidized housing through a private partnership. Though it was billed as a catalyst to revive the struggling neighborhood around it 22 years ago, the North Avenue building had fallen into disrepair, riddled with maintenance deficiencies and surrounded by blight.

The building sits a block from where 12 people were shot on Memorial Day last year. Police said drug-dealing was a frequent problem in the building's 37 units. City officials closed the building in February.

Housing authority spokesman Kevin Brown said it is likely that the city-owned building will be demolished because of the structural damage it sustained during the blaze.

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