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Thousands gathered in Baltimore on Wednesday to mourn the loss of three firefighters who died after they were trapped in a burning vacant rowhome when it partially collapsed last week.
The memorial at the city's convention center drew firefighters and others from around the country.
Fire Chief Niles Ford thanked firefighters from around the state who responded to calls while the city’s firefighters attended the memorial, allowing the Baltimore City Fire Department to “grieve as a family.”
"To lose one member of the BCFD family is a terrible tragedy, but to lose three is almost unbearable,” Ford said.
Officials recounted the early morning response to the fire on Jan. 24, noting that just seconds before firefighters arrived on the scene, they received a report of people trapped inside.
Firefighters could see flames coming from the second and third floors of the rowhouse when they pulled up and entered the building searching for those who might be trapped. But less than five minutes later — without warning — there was a collapse that trapped firefighters inside.
Firefighters worked to clear the debris to rescue four colleagues. They reached injured EMT/firefighter John McMaster and he was taken to Shock Trauma, but the three others died: Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo.
McMaster was released from the hospital three days later to recover at home.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the cause and origin of the blaze. A reward of $100,000 has been offered for information leading to the identification of a “person of interest” captured on surveillance cameras the night before the fire.
“When we learned that we’d lost them, it shook us to the core," Gov. Larry Hogan said in his remarks at the memorial. No words can give their families lasting comfort, but Hogan assured them that their lives, memories and ultimate sacrifice won’t be forgotten.
“They won’t be remembered for how they died, but for how they lived,” he said.
Sacrifice is the cornerstone of being a firefighter, and Butrim, Sadler and Lacayo teach us that others come first, International Association of Fire Fighters President Edward Kelly said. They were told that somebody was in danger of dying, he said.
“They decided that that somebody was worth dying for,” Kelly said. “Now that’s some love.”
Before the memorial began, Tony Hall of Pasadena stood outside the convention center, wearing a U.S. Navy sweatshirt while holding a U.S. flag to pay his respects and say thank you.
“It’s the least I can do,” he said.
The fallen firefighters' legacies will be honored, Mayor Brandon Scott said.
“Each of them has made the ultimate sacrifice for us. We all owe them our deepest sense of gratitude, honor, and respect. Not just today, not just tomorrow, but forever, Baltimore will do that," Scott said. "Forever we will honor them.”