‘What is the holdup?': Survivor of Baltimore tragedy wants abandoned buildings gone
Baltimore Firefighter John McMaster talks about being in the Stricker Street collapse that killed three firefighters
By Bill Carey
BALTIMORE — The lone survivor of a collapse that killed three Baltimore firefighters wants the city to address its abandoned building problem now before another tragedy occurs.
“The house was able to come down after the fire after it killed three of my brothers, then it was able to be demoed. What is the holdup on demoing the houses now?” John McMaster told WBFF.
January 24, 2022, ended up being McMaster’s last day with the Baltimore City Fire Department. McMaster was with Lieutenant Paul Butrim, and firefighters Kelsey Sadler and Kenny Lacayo, on Engine Company 14 when they responded to the fire on Stricker Street.
“Kelsey was to my right; Kenny was in front of me,” McMaster said. “Something came down and hit me in the back of the head, and it was a very hard hit through my helmet, and the next thing I know it started crumbling down on us, trapping us.”
An interior collapse trapped the firefighters.
“I reached out and was able to find Kenny’s hand. It was pitch black on fire and smoky. I tried to reassure Kenny we were going to be okay. I said ‘Brother, we’re going to be fine,’” McMaster said. “They’re going to get us out of here, but you have to open this pipe because we are burning up right now. He did that.”
McMaster was left with burn injuries and memory loss. As he continues to recover, he has joined the families of the fallen firefighters in their plan to sue the city.
“We did not know the house was vacant. We did not know there were prior fires at this house. We did not know there were prior collapses at this house,” he said.
A report about the fatal fire said that dispatchers did not make firefighters aware of the building’s history. A marking system to warn firefighters of damage was no longer in existence.
“The house was able to come down after the fire after it killed three of my brothers, then it was able to be demoed. What is the holdup on demoing the houses now,” McMaster said.