2 help rescue victims at apartment fire

May 03, 1999


photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

When Sam Baker and his brother-in-law Brent Ahalt set off Monday morning for a fishing excursion to Harrisburg, Pa., they expected it to be a day trip like any other.

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They didn't anticipate becoming heroes.

When the two came across a burning two-story apartment building on Pope Avenue, they ran inside, knocked on doors and awakened residents. Acting quickly, they helped two people to safety as they scrambled through a second-story window.

A two-alarm fire of unknown origin swept through the brick building on East Wilson Boulevard at Pope Avenue on Monday. Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown said the investigation is continuing but believes the fire started in the rear of the structure. The first fire call came in to the 911 Center at 5:48 a.m.


"When we got on Wilson (Boulevard) we could see the smoke. As we got closer we could see an orange glow," said Baker, 32, of Smithsburg.

Baker and Ahalt's noisy approach alerted Michelle Roth of the fire.

"I heard a bang and I got up and walked into my kitchen," said Roth. "I could see fire outside on the deck."

Roth escaped by jumping from the window of her 1002 B Pope Ave. apartment. She hurt her foot but didn't seek medical attention.

She and Steve Lookabaugh sat on the porch of neighbor Tammy Love and watched fire and smoke pouring from the building.

Both were huddled together in a blanket, still in nightclothes and without any shoes. They were clutching cups of hot coffee provided by Love.

Rebecca Rubeck and Lewis Murray live on the first floor at 101 1/2 E. Wilson Boulevard.

"I could see the flames but there wasn't any smoke in our apartment," Rubeck said.

She and Murray both said no smoke detector went off in their apartment but noted that the fire was apparently on the upper level.

They said they have family in Clear Spring with whom they can stay.

"I called 911 and the fire department was here in no time," said Roberta Barkley, who lived in Apt. C at 1002 Pope Ave.

Barkley said she too heard a noise and when she went to investigate, she saw fire on the deck.

When first encountering the blaze, Baker and Ahalt, 31, of Hagerstown, thought the blaze was a controlled burn being conducted by a local fire department.

Baker said when they reached the apartment they noticed curtains in the windows and a car parked nearby and determined that it was a dangerous blaze.

Neither Baker or Ahalt are volunteer firefighters, but that didn't stop them from running inside the burning building and awakening residents by shouting and knocking on doors.

They saved a woman and man climbing out a second-story window by standing on a handrail and passing the victims down, he said.

"It was something we had to do. You don't think about your own safety," said Baker, who received only minor scratches for his efforts.

Baker and Ahalt spent about 20 minues at the fire, leaving after Hagerstown City firefighters arrived.

Delayed relatively briefly by the fire, Baker said he and his fishing buddy decided to continue on with their fishing trip.

"We still had the day ahead of us," he said.

Ahalt could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

The building owner, Leon Kinsley, was reportedly at the scene Monday but couldn't be located for comment.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said this was the first multiple alarm of 1999.

"We made the decision to pull all our firefighters out because we were afraid the floor would go," Hawbaker said Monday.

Fire under the roof was particularly hard to access and firefighters were attacking it from the tops of the ladder trucks.

Firefighters began going back inside shortly after 8 a.m.

In addition to all city fire companies, Funkstown, Community Rescue Service and the Emergency Air Unit responded to the incident.

CRS took one firefighter to Washington County Hospital with minor injuries. No other injuries were reported.

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