Baltimore fire chief resigns as fatal fire report released

From the Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore’s fire chief resigned Friday, the same day as the release of a report that reviewed the department’s response to a January vacant rowhouse fire that left three firefighters dead.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced that he decided to accept Chief Niles Ford’s resignation immediately to position the fire department for the necessary changes. Ford had led the department since 2014.

“There are no words or actions that will fill the void or ease the pain felt by the family, loved ones and colleagues of these three heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the people of Baltimore,” Scott said in a statement.

The 314-page report by a board comprised of officials from area fire departments aimed to make recommendations to prevent future tragedies, not find fault, news outlets reported. It notes that many of its recommendations could also be found in previous reports about close calls and deaths in the department. The table of contents states that a message from Ford would appear on page 4, but that page is blank.

“There must be a renewed commitment to leadership, accountability, safety, and professionalism at every level of the Department to bring these recommendations to fruition and solve some of the chronic issues the Department has been dealing with for years,” the report stated.

Four firefighters were battling a blaze inside the home on Jan. 24 when part of the three-story building collapsed, officials said.

Paramedics/firefighters Kenneth Lacayo and Kelsey Sadler were pulled from the fire and taken to a trauma hospital, where they were both pronounced dead. Lt. Paul Butrim was recovered from the building and pronounced dead at the scene. EMT/firefighter John McMaster was initially put on life support, but he was released from the hospital a few days later.

The firefighters’ deaths were later ruled homicides and the blaze was classified the blaze as “incendiary,” meaning it was set or spread into an area where flames shouldn’t be and involves a violation of law, intentional or not. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said a person of interest was identified.

The report released Friday described the challenges that department members faced that day as extreme, saying that they had never been experienced in the department’s 65-year history. It identified communication and leadership problems at the fire scene, stating that the incident commander was “overwhelmed and reached task saturation because command was not expanded.”

The report also found that there was no program to notify firefighters about vacant and unsafe homes or standard procedures for battling fires or coordinating EMS responses at vacant buildings.

The mayor said an accountabililty program will be established to ensure that the recommendations are properly implemented and that the department is committed to protecting residents’ lives and doing so in a way that protects those who “selflessly serve others on a daily basis,” Scott said.