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How Dangerous Are House Fires? Even Well-Protected Firefighters Frequently Suffer Smoke Inhalation and Severe Burn Injury

In late February, two Prince George’s County, MD firefighters were critically injured when a wind-fueled fireball blew through a burning house. They will survive, but the two members of the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department will face long, painful recoveries.

Ethan Sorrell, 21, sustained respiratory burns “through his esophagus and down to his lungs,” and Kevin O’Toole, 22, suffered second and third degree burns over 40 percent of his body when a basement fire suddenly turned a small house into something resembling a blast furnace.

O’Toole underwent skin graft surgery shortly after, and will be in the burn unit at the Washington Hospital Center for six weeks. He then faces six months of rehabilitation beyond that.

Doctors won’t know the full extent of the damage to Sorrell’s burned airway until they remove a breathing tube. His father, Vann — a volunteer firefighter in Buies Creek, NC — welled up when asked about his son’s bravery. “When you go into it, you know the dangers,” Sorrell said. But the Sorrells “just have that need to serve,” he added.

His son is unable to speak but has been communicating with a pen and paper. He seems to be in good spirits, said the local fire chief. “The first thing Ethan wrote to me on a pad was [that] the medic who transported him was attractive.”

Five volunteer firefighters were treated and released for burns and other injuries suffered in this incident, which as been called by fire officials a “freak occurrence.”

One of the injured was Michael McClary, who returned to the hospital two days after the fire with bandages wrapped around his hands, and his heart heavy. “He’s still upset that he got to go home and his brothers didn’t,” said his mother, Cheryl.

Michael, she said, wasn’t up to discussing publicly what happened at the house, where wind gusts apparently shot a column of flame up the stairs, through the first floor and out the front door.

The fire was extinguished quickly, said a fire commander who was directing a group in the basement at the time of the fireball.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.