By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, mgray@afro.com

A daring attempt to save the lives of a family trapped inside a burning house led to being rescued although on died Feb. 25 in Laurel, MD.

John Henry Karwoski, 91, of Laurel, succumbed to his smoke inhalation related injuries while his wife, whose name has not been released but is thought to have been his primary caretaker, remains in critical condition in a local hospital.

Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGFD) firefighters were summoned to the blaze at a two-story, split-foyer, single family home in the 15400 block of Laurelton Drive in Laurel around 9:45 a.m. that was engulfed by flames that producing dangerous smoke conditions as well.  According to the PGFD public information unit firefighters from Laurel Fire/EMS Station 810 and Laurel Rescue Fire/EMS Station 849 were the first to arrive on the scene after an emergency call.

An unidentified elderly woman was saved in a house fire on Feb. 25 in Laurel, MD., although her husband John Henry Karwoski, 91 succumbed to injuries from smoke inhalation and died. (Courtesy Photo)

The 911 caller notified authorities that someone, an adult mobility-limited male, was trapped in one of the bedrooms.  The first arriving unit advised the other responding units of heavy smoke and began immediately started initiating an interior attack on the life threatening conditions and began their search for the trapped occupant.

Dispatchers from Prince George’s County Public Safety Communications advised responding units the that the 911 caller reported an elderly male adult male with limited mobility was trapped in one of the bedrooms.  The woman who was also caught behind the curtain of thick smoke that left them with the inability to escape is said to have likely made the call.

Firefighters from Beltsville Fire/EMS Station 831 were the first to arrive and initiated the search and rescue attempt.  The intensity of the fire led to first responders from other jurisdictions to help bring the blaze under control. Fire and Emergency Medical Service units from Howard County, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County were also summoned to assist on this incident.

They began rescue procedures by removing a window and attacking the fire itself by conventional measures.  While trying to contain and extinguish the blaze with water hoses and other means, the first responders also began their search. Unexpectedly, the strategy had to be modified because the expectations for a rescue operation increased from one to two elderly residents who were in danger.

The residents of the household, who are believed to be husband and wife, apparently were trapped on the upper level of the burning structure.  After making the 911 emergency call, the unidentified wife collapsed from smoke inhalation.  The fire was located on the top floor kitchen area where both occupants located by firefighters.

“An adult female, believed to be the initial 911 caller, was found unconscious by firefighters from Laurel Fire/EMS Station 810 and Laurel Rescue Fire/EMS Station 849 and removed outside by way of the interior stairs,” reads the report from the PG County Fire Department.

As the search continued “an adult male was located in a top floor bedroom by firefighters from Beltsville Fire/EMS Station 831 and removed by a window and down a ladder.  Both occupants were suffering from smoke inhalation and treated on scene by medics before being transported to area hospitals in serious condition,” the report concluded.

The fire was ruled a cooking accident and despite being quickly extinguished caused an estimated $50,000 in damage.  The smoke alarms were present and working.  One firefighter suffered a leg injury and transported to a local hospital for treatment.  However, at last report the “adult female” remains in critical condition.

This was the second time in less than a week where firefighters were forced into search and recover mode during an incident.