Man critically burned in Hagerstown fire had gone back inside to help girl

January 31, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A man who was critically burned in a house fire Wednesday morning had been trying to reach a teenage girl who was still in the North Prospect Street residence.

The man, identified Thursday as Austin Burnett Jr., 41, was in respiratory arrest on the second floor of the home at 452 N. Prospect St. when firefighters found him, said Ron Horn, deputy chief of the Hagerstown Fire Department.

Burnett was listed in critical condition at the Bayview Burn Center in Baltimore on Thursday evening.

Fire officials said Thursday during a press conference that the fire, which was started by a portable heater, could have been prevented.

Burnett was one of five people living in the home, Mike Weller, fire prevention coordinator, said Thursday morning.

The woman who lives in the home discovered the fire. She went to Burnett, who had been in front of the house working on his car, and told him her daughter was still inside.


Burnett went back into the home, against the advice of an emergency dispatcher, just as the teenage girl was escaping through a bedroom window, Weller said.

Burnett was quickly overcome by smoke and heat. A Washington County Hospital trauma doctor said Burnett would have died if firefighters and Community Rescue Service Inc. personnel had not acted quickly at the scene to revive him, Weller said.

A portable electric heater operating too close to furniture was identified as the cause of the fire, authorities said Thursday. Gas service to the home had been disconnected months before, and the family had been using nine portable heaters in the home, Weller said. The fire was classified as accidental, Weller said.

Three two-man crews went into the home, Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said. The first crew raised a ladder and went into a front bedroom because they were told the teenage girl was in there, the chief said. A second crew took a hose into the home, and a third searched the rest of the home, he said.

"Mr. Burnett would be dead today if each of those engines did not have two firefighters," the chief said.

Firefighters found only one smoke detector in the home, and it was not operational, Weller said.

Every home should have a working smoke detector that is less than 10 years old on each level, he said.

At Thursday's press conference, Community Action Council Executive Director Dave Jordan spoke, reminding the public his agency can help those who have a tough time paying their utility bills.

"We didn't want to see incidents like this occur," he said.

If you need help

· To request an application for assistance with utility bills from the Community Action Council, call 301-797-4161.

· To ask the Hagerstown Fire Department to install free smoke detectors in your home, call the department's hot line at 301-791-2205.

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