Boy, 4, rescued in fire, but his brother, 3, dies

Baltimore firefighter braves flames to save child

April 27, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Megan Cook stood on the parking lot below the burning building in Northwest Baltimore, holding her 4-month-old daughter close and staring up at the second floor.

Neighbors rushed to her. "Where are your boys?" resident Alicia Bursey said she asked.

Cook, 30, pointed up to her windows and said, "In the apartment," Bursey recalled.

Firefighter Albert Jason Boyd arrived at the fire in the 5500 block of Haddon Ave. early yesterday and said he heard Cook screaming that her children were inside.

Boyd went in alone, even as colleagues were still preparing the water hose. He ran through flames in the kitchen and, blinded by thick smoke, crawled around bunk beds in the children's bedroom, feeling for the boys. The fire was so hot that it singed his helmet.

He heard a cry.

"That put me in the right direction, but I was praying for him to cry one more time," he said.

Boyd found an unconscious 4-year-old near the bedroom window and carried him out to safety. Another firefighter found the boy's brother on the bottom bunk.

Phoenix Cook, 3, died. Moses Cook, 4, was in critical condition yesterday at Sinai Hospital.

Karen Daniels, 44, who lives in the apartment above the Cooks, was in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Police officers Shareen Harris and Chris Wade found "pandemonium," with people jumping out of second- and third-floor windows, when they pulled up to the apartment building. A family hovered at a third-floor window near the smoke and fire, dangling a young boy from the sill.

Harris, Wade and a resident formed a human net and urged the boy's relatives to drop him. They did, and the threesome caught the boy. The two women made it to safety a short time later by climbing down a Fire Department ladder.

"Everybody needed everything at the same time," Harris said.

The blaze at the Ashburton Apartments began about 3 a.m. in Cook's kitchen.

She had been cooking and had fallen asleep with a pan still on the stovetop, said Fire Chief Kevin Cartwright, a department spokesman.

Cook awoke to a smoke-filled apartment, alerted her boys and jumped out a second-floor window with her baby in her arms, Cartwright said.

An array of possible building code violations may have complicated matters.

Cook's apartment -- like many other others in the privately owned complex, according to residents -- had no smoke detector. Cartwright confirmed that there was no detector in Cook's apartment, and he also said the buildings appeared to be in violation of a requirement to have a hard-wired fire alarm system.

Bursey and other residents spoke of other problems, such as exposed wires, electrical outlets that frequently short-circuited and the absence of fire extinguishers.

Residents said they pay $600 to $700 a month for two- or three-bedroom apartments. "They don't care," resident Wendy Brunson said of her landlords. "You literally have to threaten them before they come out to fix anything."

Kay-Mar properties owns the apartments, according to tax records. The buildings are managed by Washington Place Management.

Kevin O'Keefe, a public relations agent speaking on behalf of Washington Place, said "there's no evidence of any problems in the buildings."

He disputed the Fire Department account that Cook's apartment had no smoke detector, saying that maintenance crews checked yesterday after the fire and found that "every single unit has a working smoke detector."

The complex is two connected buildings of 12 units each. The building where the fire started sustained about $15,000 in damage, and about $5,000 in personal items, such as furniture, were destroyed, Cartwright said.

Red Cross volunteers assisted in the temporary relocation of about 35 residents, most of them children, said Red Cross spokeswoman Linnea Anderson.

O'Keefe said the 12 units that did not catch fire in the damaged building are habitable. He said as many as eight units in the building may be ready for residents as soon as tonight. The other four units, he said, will need more extensive repairs.

Firefighter Boyd, 27, said that until yesterday, he hadn't made a fire rescue in his three years with the department.

"It was just a reaction," he said about running into the fire. "There were kids in there. Children really get to me."

When he emerged from the building carrying the boy, his supervisor, acting Lt. Darrin Catts, had to pat out the flames on Boyd's helmet. The fire burned the word Baltimore off another firefighter's coat, Cartwright said.

Boyd took Moses Cook to paramedics and went back into the building to tell firefighters to keep looking for another child.

Firefighter Omar Shareef found Phoenix on the bottom bunk. But Phoenix wasn't breathing and had no heartbeat, he said.

Bursey said she saw firefighters carry Phoenix out as his stunned mother looked on. The boy was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital.

"If I live to be 300 years old, I will never be able to forget seeing that boy," Bursey said, tears in her eyes hours after the fire was extinguished. "I wish I could. If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn't be standing there."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.