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Months after LODDs, Baltimore Fire starts program to mark unsafe vacant buildings

“The coordinated efforts to protect first responders, building engineers and others is ‌vital,” Fire Chief Niles Ford said


The charred front of a vacant rowhouse is seen on Furrow Street in West Baltimore. On Sunday, Baltimore firefighters responding to a fire found a man dead with gunshot wounds in the building.

Photo/Jerry Jackson/Tribune News Service

By Cassidy Jensen
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Months after three Baltimore firefighters died in a vacant rowhouse fire, the Baltimore Fire Department launched a program Monday to mark hundreds of unstable vacant buildings as unsafe to enter.

Fire Chief Niles Ford, along with city officials including Mayor Brandon Scott, led firefighters in attaching 12x12 red reflective square signs to unsafe vacant properties in Mount Clare, the neighborhood where Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler and firefighter/paramedic Kenny Lacayo died fighting a Jan. 24 fire in a three-story vacant home on Stricker Street.

“The manner in which our fallen firefighters lost their lives has severely affected the members of this department – and quite frankly – the entire community,” Ford said in a news release. “The coordinated efforts to protect first responders, building engineers and others is ‌vital as we consistently work to improve our safety standards and identify new opportunities to protect the City of Baltimore.”

The department has more than 800 reflective signs that firefighters plan to place on vacant properties around the city, Ford said in the release. More than 500 vacant homes have been identified as unsafe, based on the stability of the building’s structure and roof, previous fire damage and signs of a collapse.

Firefighters will spend two hours every Wednesday beginning this week marking the front and back of unsafe buildings, according to the release. They will also submit information about the property to fire officials and the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, including the address, occupancy status and unsafe conditions.

“It has to be determined fairly quickly whether it’s safe to enter a structure,” Ford said in the release. “We have just a few moments to decide to fight a fire internally or externally.”

The computer system’s data, drawn from manual entries and firefighter observations instead of the city housing department’s vacant property records, lacks complete information on the risks of entering a particular building.


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When firefighters arrived to battle the Stricker Street fire on Jan. 24, they didn’t know that the home had partially collapsed during a 2015 fire. Baltimore officials said this summer that the CAD system is being updated more regularly now.

This is not the first time that Baltimore’s vacant buildings have been visually marked to protect first responders. Under a previous program called Code X-ray, fire companies placed red signs with white Xs outside buildings that firefighters weren’t supposed to enter without a credible report of a person trapped inside.

That program ended in 2012, two years before a Baltimore fire lieutenant died of smoke inhalation after falling through a collapsed floor in a vacant house. After Lt. James Bethea’s 2014 death, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended Baltimore fire personnel resume identifying and marking hazardous buildings.


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