BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Left alone and dying in the basement of a vacant home. The tragic final report into the death of veteran Baltimore City firefighter James Bethea is complete.
Now changes could be coming to the department.
Meghan McCorkell with details of the lieutenant’s heartbreaking final moments.
The death of Lieutenant Bethea has been ruled accidental. Now fire officials are trying to make sure it never happens again.
A picture of the fire scene on North Avenue is one of the last of Lieutenant James Bethea alive.
“He is not a fallen hero because he lost this life in the line of duty, he’s a fallen hero because of how he lived his life,” said Chief Niles Ford, Baltimore City Fire Department.
The 62-year-old safety officer, who worked alone, responded to a rowhouse fire in November when he went to check the vacant home next door. Lt. Bethea fell through the first floor into the basement.
According to an investigation released Friday, he tried to find a way out.
“At some period of time he was conscious because he did work his way around the wall,” Chief Ford said.
It’s believed Bethea died from smoke inhalation within 30 minutes. He never radioed for help.
Firefighters cleared the scene around 3:30 in the morning. They didn’t realize Bethea was still there until nearly four hours later when a fellow firefighter spotted his car outside.
According to the report, Lieutenant Bethea had arrived on the scene at 12:38 a.m.
At 1:07 a.m., was his last radio transmission.
At 6:43 a.m., his empty car was reported at the scene.
Two hours later, his body was found in the basement.
Bethea’s family received the report Friday.
“He gave his life caring for the people of this city, of Baltimore City. Never forget that,” said Darryl Bethea, son.
Now fire officials hope to learn from this tragedy.
“The reforms that will come from the report will assure that Lt. Jim Bethea’s death was not in vain,” Chief Ford said.
So a situation like this never happens again.
Fire officials are now reviewing the recommendations in the report and expect sweeping accountability changes.
According to the report, Bethea’s radio was on him and working. It’s unknown why he didn’t call for help.