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Volunteer firefighter injured battling arson blaze returns home


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Photo by Jim Davis. Volunteer firefighter Kevin O’Toole, wearing a gray T-shirt, is welcomed back to Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department  by his fellow volunteers Friday after he was released from the hospital for burn treatments following an arson fire that injured six other firefighters.

Photo by Jim Davis. Volunteer firefighter Kevin O’Toole, wearing a gray T-shirt, is welcomed back to Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department by his fellow volunteers Friday after he was released from the hospital for burn treatments following an arson fire that injured six other firefighters.

Published on: Thursday, April 26, 2012

By Jim Davis

After eight weeks in the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and undergoing several operations, the volunteer firefighter who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his arms and hands while battling a house fire earlier this year in Riverdale Heights has returned home.

Kevin O’Toole of Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department was released from the hospital Friday afternoon. The 22-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., then returned to the firehouse on the same ladder truck he was on Feb. 24. That night, O’Toole and six other volunteer firefighters were injured as a rare fireball swept up the basement stairs as the firefighters were evacuating the burning structure. 

“When they rolled me in that night, I made a commitment that this isn’t going to take me. I’m going to fight my way through this. I’m going to get back to who I was,” O’Toole said after being released from the hospital.

“That night was pretty tough,” said Capt. Kyle Schultz, of Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department. “We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

On the night O’Toole was injured, firefighters from Bladensburg, Riverdale, Hyattsville and other nearby companies were dispatched to the house fire just after 9 p.m. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they reported heavy fire at the rear of the house.

O’Toole and six other firefighters attempted to make an aggressive attack on the fire inside the house, but with heavy fire conditions throughout the basement and the fire intensifying  in size, they were ordered to evacuate.

As the seven firefighters were exiting the house, “a sudden rush of air from the high winds caused by either a door or a basement window being opened or broken out caused the fire to intensify and send a fireball of flames up the steps to the first floor and out the front door and on top of the seven firefighters who were leaving the house,” said Mark Brady, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department spokesman.

“It only took eight seconds for this to happen from the time the evacuation tones were sounded to the time the fire reached the front door from the basement,” County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said.

All seven firefighters were transported to the Burn Center. Except for O’Toole, the firefighters were treated for their burns and released from the hospital within one to two days.

Prince George’s County fire investigators; members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Arson Task Force; and Prince George’s County Police Department have ruled the fire as arson.

Also, after an extensive investigation, it was determined that someone had attempted to set the house next door on fire just a few weeks prior to this incident.   

“This cowardly crime is unconscionable to me. I have assured the nearly 3,000 men and women of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department — and I assure you — that we will leave no stone unturned to bring anyone responsible for this to justice,” Bashoor said.

State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County Angela D. Alsobrooks said, “When we find the person or the individuals who did this, they will be charged with first-degree arson along with other charges.”

As for O’Toole, he will be heading with his parents to Suffolk County, N.Y., where he will undergo at least eight more months of physical therapy. While he is home with family, O’Toole will graduate from Suffolk Community College in May with his degree in fire science. His mother, Jane O’Toole, said he kept up with his schoolwork during his hospital stay.

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