BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The condition of a Baltimore firefighter who was injured in a partial building collapse Monday that killed three of his fellow firefighters has been upgraded to fair, Baltimore City Fire Chief Niles Ford said. According to his sister, he’s talking.

In a statement Tuesday, Chief Ford said he visited University of Maryland R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center to see firefighter John McMaster, who was conscious and alert. Ford said McMaster has been upgraded to fair condition.

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“While he has a long way to go,” Ford acknowledged, “I am incredibly optimistic, and we will continue to pray for and support EMT/FF McMaster and his family during his time of recovery.”

McMaster’s sister, who wishes to remain unnamed, told WJZ he is talking after his breathing tube was removed Tuesday.

“We’re just beyond blessed and heartbroken at the same time for the three families who paid an unthinkable price yesterday,” she said. “As happy as we are, our hearts are broken.”

Firefighters Lt. Paul Butrim, Kelsey Sadler and Kenny Lacayo died of their injuries Monday following a partial building collapse at the scene of a fire that engulfed a vacant row home on South Stricker Street, city officials said.

Firefighters were called to the scene of a two-alarm fire at the vacant home about 6 a.m. Monday. Ford said firefighters went into the home to keep the flames at bay and protect the occupants inside neighboring homes when a collapse occurred.

The collapse trapped Butrim, Sadler, Lacayo and McMaster inside. One of them was immediately rescued, two were removed within an hour and crews later worked to extricate the fourth.

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Two of the firefighters were in the midst of cardiac arrest when they arrived at Shock Trauma. Several hours after the collapse happened, officials confirmed what the firefighters’ friends and loved ones had feared all along: three of them had died.

Butrim and Sadler were with the fire department for 15 years, Lacayo was with the department for seven years, and McMaster has been with the department for six years.

Butrim was recognized with a Valor Award in 2015 from Firehouse Magazine for rescuing an unconscious child trapped in a house fire and performing CPR until EMS units arrived.

According to the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad, Lacayo received a unit citation in 2018 for his life-saving actions when a pedestrian was hit by a car. He was also recognized as a top ten responder in 2016 and 2016, the squad said.

“Every day our firefighters, our first responders put their lives on the line for the sake of others,” Ford said. “From this moment, we will honor those we lost today, for their bravery, their courage, their love for helping others and the respect they had for the Baltimore City Fire Department.”

This is the first line-of-duty death for the Baltimore City Fire Department since James Bethea died on Nov. 12, 2014. The 62-year-old safety officer died after he responded to a rowhouse fire, went to check on a vacant home next door and fell through the first floor into the basement. The cause of death was smoke inhalation.

It’s one of the most devastating incidents in the history of the fire department. In 1955, six firefighters died while battling a fire at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company at 507-09 E. Baltimore Street, according to figures compiled by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

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The deadliest fire in department history was 1888 — seven firefighters were killed in an explosion while battling a warehouse fire on Sharp Street, according to published reports and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

CBS Baltimore Staff