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City Councilmember Introduces Bill To Establish New Safety Restrictions For Firefighters

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Nearly a month after three Baltimore firefighters were killed and a fourth injured in the partial collapse of a vacant rowhouse, a councilmember has introduced legislation that would establish new safety restrictions.

On the morning of Jan. 24, Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler, firefighter Kenny Lacayo and firefighter John McMaster were part of the crew battling a fire inside a vacant home in the 200 block of S. Stricker Street. The adjacent houses in the row were occupied.

At some point, the fire department said a partial collapse trapped the four firefighters inside. Only McMaster survived after a short stint at Shock Trauma.

The Firefighter Safety Act was introduced Tuesday by District 2 Councilmember Danielle McCray. It includes a provision prohibiting firefighters from attacking a fire from inside a building if it's abandoned, vacant or unoccupied unless there is confirmation that someone is inside, the fire is consuming less than 25 percent of the structure and conditions permit a safe entry.

The bill also calls for department employees to travel no more than 15 mph over the posted speed limit when responding to an emergency and would require firefighters to wear helmet and in-mask thermal imaging cameras, which would only be used at the scene of a fire.

In a statement, McCray said line-of-duty death reports by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health and Board of Inquiry internal investigations emphasized "the alarming absence of internal control systems of accountability at the scene of fires."

McCray said the cameras "will aid firefighters in the performance of their duties—increasing efficiency in the practices employed to rescue occupants from burning buildings; providing insight for training and post – incident analysis; and producing critical information used during investigations."

Representatives from the Baltimore City Fire Department and a firefighters' union said they were not contacted about the bill before it was submitted.

"I think the intent of this bill is good but I think a lot of discussion needs to be had with the fire department administration, with both unions to sit with the council to really go through this and make it something that's just not a knee jerk reaction," said the President of the International Association of Firefighters in Baltimore, Richard Langford.

In a statement, the Baltimore City Fire Department spokesperson said, "we were not consulted about this in advance, however, we do look forward to a robust conversation with the council."

With 15,000 vacant buildings in Baltimore, there's a citywide sweep underway at Mayor Brandon Scott's order to comb over operations and procedures with these types of buildings. The review is scheduled to wrap up by the end of February.

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