The Baltimore County Fire Department’s annual commendations and awards ceremony on March 23 saw a number of local volunteer and career firefighters recognized for selfless feats of bravery and heroism.
Of particular note was a number of firefighters from Pikesville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Chestnut Ridge, Lutherville, Randallstown and Timonium stations who were recognized for their collaborative effort to rescue trapped workers from a collapsing building on Oakmere Road in Owings Mills last September.
“It was a very complicated and unusual type of tactical rescue, which we likely will never see again, given the circumstances with the collapse, with both guys being trapped up there alive and conscious,” said Chris Imbach, a firefighter and member of the specially trained Confined Space Tactical team at Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department. “The coordination among career, volunteer and special ops personnel from the entire fire department was on display at its fullest.”
The collapsed house had been under construction. When firefighters arrived on the scene on the afternoon of Sept. 9, three of the four primary walls had failed, causing the entire roof to collapse on top of the two workers, according to Imbach.
“They were trapped from about chest level down, I could see the upper halves of two guys’ bodies hanging out,” he said. “We had numerous personnel inside the structure trying to stabilize it, which was the primary concern for the rescue. That was a huge challenge with a structure that big and three walls collapsing; a lot of engineering had to go on very quickly before we could tackle any type of rescue. As that was happening, it became apparent that one of the victims needed immediate attention. All of his weight was on his diaphragm with the roof on top of him, and he was becoming too weak to breath, so I essentially propped him up on my shoulder, which bought us some time and stabilized his breathing. At that point we attempted the rescue.”
The two workers were rescued and evacuated by helicopter to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where both were treated and eventually recovered.
The Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company operates the only volunteer Confined Space Technical rescue team in Baltimore County. A number of years ago, the county decided to train each rescue squad in a different technical discipline. Pikesville was trained specifically for these unique scenarios.
“They don’t come often, but when they do, you have to be on your ‘A’ game,” said Glenn Resnick, rescue lieutenant and team leader for CST at Pikesville and president of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firefighters Association. “My reaction initially when I arrived was one of those that your brain had to catch up with what your eyes were seeing, but we went to work without hesitation. It was a very effective and well-organized rescue. It was what we trained for in technical rescue.”
Pikesville Fire Capt. Scott Goldstein was one of the first responders on the scene. His first action was to examine the structure’s stability. The house had a number of above-ground wires that proved hazardous, and he had to call BGE. From that point, the team stabilized the structure and attempted a rescue while they waited for aid from the Lutherville rescue squad, which brought a crane to help lift the roof as a backup plan.
“Training pays off,” said Goldstein. “These volunteers put in countless hours training for unusual events, and that training paid off in being able to save these two individuals.”
The commendations ceremony, which took place at Loch Raven High School, was attended by hundreds of firefighters, family, friends and community members as well as County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a number of Baltimore County Council members and Fire Chief John J. Hohman.
“I was truly honored to receive the award, but it is a part of the job,” said Resnick. “We get into [firefighting] to help our fellow man, I do not believe there is a more selfless thing. These guys and gals are willing to put their lives on their lines for strangers, and I could not be more proud of all of these people who help.”
Modesty goes a long way, but Kamenetz summed up the general feeling in the room best.
“On behalf of our citizens, I thank you all,” he said. “Please remember that an ordinary day for you is an extraordinary day, and often and extremely difficult one, for the people to whom you render aid. Your professionalism and compassion mean a great deal.”