Arundel police detective saves neighbors from nighttime blaze that kills infant

`We could have lost our lives' in building fire

March 11, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

The pounding footsteps on the floor above startled Franklin Bilbrey awake. Then he heard a fire alarm going off. He poked his head over the rear balcony and looked up to see the apartment above his engulfed in smoke and flames.

Bilbrey, an Anne Arundel County police detective, woke his wife and 17-year-old son, helping them to safely escape their building at the St. Charles at Olde Court apartment complex near Randallstown that burned early yesterday and killed a 6-month-old infant.

While his family ran out, Bilbrey climbed stairs to the third floor where the fire was raging, but he had to turn back. On the second floor, he broke down two doors and helped two women escape from the three-story garden-style apartment building.

The infant, identified by the Baltimore County Fire Department as Malik Michael Hasan, was found dead about 6 a.m. in a third-floor apartment, near where investigators say the fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. and went to three alarms.

"I lost my police uniform," Bilbrey said as he huddled with his wife, Jalayne, under a blanket given to them by American Red Cross workers. "I grabbed my gun, but I wish I had grabbed my two boxes of photos. ... We lost everything. But we could have lost our lives."

Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department, said the fire started in building No. 24 on Stockmill Road near Old Court Middle School. A family on the third floor reported their infant missing, and fire crews found his body about two hours after they brought the fire under control, Armacost said.

The building, with four apartments on each of three floors, was deemed a "total loss" by fire investigators, Armacost said. A cause has not been determined. About 19 people lived there, she said.

The 11 occupants of an adjacent building were evacuated temporarily to a leasing center. Armacost said that building was not significantly damaged and that residents would likely be able to return.

The displaced residents, many of whom didn't even have time to grab jackets before they escaped, were given food, clothing and blankets, Red Cross officials said. "We will continue to work with the families," said Cyndi Ryan, a disaster caseworker manager at the scene.

Bilbrey said in the moments after he realized there was a fire, he and his family moved quickly. He grabbed his cell phone and, reflexively, his gun, because he said he wasn't sure what would await him outside.

As he, his wife and son left their apartment, they realized they were among the first to get out - so he began pounding on doors to alert other residents. He tried running up stairs to the third floor, but the smoke was too heavy, and he came back down.

He kicked in the door of one woman, who had been asleep, and helped her get out, he said. He kicked in another resident's door, and helped carry her over broken glass because she was barefoot, he said.

Huddled with his wife, who works as a sales manager, the couple said that their thoughts were with their teenage son, and how he would adjust to what had happened. "He's really going to realize that we could have died," Bilbrey said. "We all could've died."

Yesterday's fire was the second at a garden-style apartment in Baltimore County in a week. Last Monday, a fire that began accidentally at the Queen's Ridge Apartments tore through a building, displacing scores of residents but injuring no one.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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