BALTIMORE, Md. — Firefighters responding to a call for a fire in a vacant rowhome on North Collington Avenue arrived to find a virtual inferno, and Marcel Holt says he feared the flames would spread to his unit down the block.
"It just was like the roof caught on fire pretty fast and then you could see it just falling. It was falling everywhere," said Holt.
While the vacant unit was gutted, no one was injured, but the president of the Baltimore Firefighters Union Local 734, Richard 'Dickie' Altieri says the fact that nearby firehouses had been shut down temporarily to assist with emergency medical calls could have carried a heavy cost under the wrong circumstances.
"You could see it was spreading to other units fast so if Engine 51 or Engine 33 had been in service, they probably would have been there a minute to two minutes faster," said Altieri.
Altieri met with city leaders and Chief Niles Ford this week pleading with them to quit drawing on firefighters to serve as paramedics and to add more EMS units.
A double shooting behind a school on the same day as the North Collington fire underscored the need to address the shortage.
"We had a youth who was shot and we had guys on the scene with a fire engine waiting for a medic unit for like 20 minutes," said Altieri.
That's 20 minutes the fire engine risked being out of position and 20 minutes the victim's condition could have taken a critical turn for the worse.
Two incidents, which underscore Altieri's dire prediction earlier this week, which have now drawn the attention of city leaders and the city's top firefighter.
"We're playing Russian roulette with the citizens of Baltimore and the members of our fire department."