Minutes after emergency responders arrived to a growing fire on Linden Heights Avenue, firefighters called out “Mayday” triggering a scramble for information across emergency dispatch radio lines.
Authorities have not completed their investigation into the circumstances of the deadly fire and its cause, said Amanda Hils, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Baltimore division on Thursday. However, more details have emerged about the early response to the blaze that injured five firefighters, two fatally.
Rodney Pitts III, of Engine 29, died Oct. 19 several hours after the fire broke out in the 5200 block of Linden Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. His funeral is scheduled for Friday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Another firefighter, Lt. Dillon Rinaldo, later succumbed to his injuries at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
As units responded to the scene around 3:45 p.m., a rapid intervention team went to attack the blaze and began fighting it from the front and back of the rowhomes.
Audio of the emergency dispatch calls placed that afternoon describe a heavy fire in the rear and limited access to the front of the rowhomes. Several minutes into the response, a muffled voice calls out “Mayday, mayday, mayday!”
A few seconds later, another urgent “Mayday” call comes across the line followed by “First floor.”
“Engine 29, I need you to give me a report on your location,” someone can be heard asking. No response came.
Responders went on to describe the fire as “heavy” and spreading across three dwellings. Flames could be seen coming out windows. Voices urgently radioed for more information on the location of the “Mayday” calls.
“I need a second alarm, man,” one caller says, drawing more fire crews to the scene.
“Are all your people accounted for?”
Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace said the fire grew very rapidly. Firefighters had zero visibility through the thick smoke and faced superheated temperatures as high as 1,200 degrees.
Pitts was inside the structure when the fast-moving blaze overwhelmed crews. Fire department officials later said Rinaldo was “rendering aid to his comrade” when he was fatally injured.
Three more people — Lt. Keith Brooks and firefighters Tavon Marshall and Seth Robbins — were also injured while attempting to rescue Pitts and Rinaldo from the dwellings. All three have since been released from the hospital.
The Linden Heights Avenue fire comes at a time when Baltimore City Fire Department is still rebounding from a deadly fire in January 2022, which killed Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler and firefighter Kenny Lacayo. The three were battling a fire at a vacant rowhome on South Stricker Street in Southwest Baltimore. They became trapped when part of the building collapsed. Then-Fire Chief Niles Ford resigned as a report critical of the agency’s response to the fire was released.