Reisterstown VFC Firefighter Gene Kirchner (l) and Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan.
Jonathan Hart is a retired division chief from the Baltimore County Fire Department in Maryland. The column below, reprinted with his permission, was published today by The Baltimore Sun. It addresses staffing issues for command officers in Baltimore County that Hart connects to the recent critical injury to Reisterstown VFC Firefighter Gene Kirchner and the January, 2011 death of Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan (increasing command officer staffing was a NIOSH recommendation). Here’s the column:
Over two years have passed since firefighter Mark Falkenhan was killed at an apartment fire on Dowling Circle in Towson. His death resulted, in part, from a collapse of the Incident Command System (ICS), when first-arriving units were faced with heavy fire and multiple rescues. ICS is a procedural policy for ensuring that command and control mechanisms are continually utilized during mitigation efforts at every incident. “Command” is assumed by the officer of the first-arriving unit and passed to the responding chief officer upon his or her arrival.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts investigations of fires that result in firefighter deaths. Among the recommendations made by the NIOSH investigation of the Dowling Circle fire was the following: “Increase command officer staffing to ensure fire fighter safety during emergency operations.”
Despite the clear findings of the NIOSH, very few operational changes have been implemented by the Baltimore County Fire Department to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, and nothing has been done to improve command staffing.
In fact, Baltimore County has fewer on-duty command officers (per capita) than any other department in the metro area. Baltimore County has only three command officers on duty at any given time. Similar-sized jurisdictions (Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City) typically have six to 10 command officers on duty. These departments understand how essential it is to provide adequate command and control on the fireground by enabling command officers to reach the incident scene quickly.
By virtue of the limited number of command officers in Baltimore County, each officer is responsible for a very large geographic area (battalion). Therefore, response times for command officers are excessive. It is not unusual for battalion chiefs to take 20 or even 25 minutes to respond to an incident. These chiefs arrive too late to command incidents during the critical early stages of the fire attack, which is typically when things go wrong — sometimes very wrong.
On Jan. 11, 2011, it took approximately 20 minutes for the initial battalion chief to arrive at the fire that claimed Mark Falkenhan’s life. Upon arrival, that chief immediately made the determination that the building was not safe for interior firefighting operations; he ordered the evacuation of the building. Seconds later, Mark transmitted the “Mayday,” signaling that he was trapped in a third floor apartment. What would have happened if the battalion chief had arrived one minute (or even 30 seconds) earlier that day?
This past Wednesday, firefighter Gene Kirchner, 25, of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company was critically injured during a house fire with people trapped. Although the facts surrounding his injuries are yet to be determined, it seems highly likely that in this case too, his injuries resulted in part from the delayed response of a command officer. The command officer was responding from the Woodlawn/Catonsville area, as would normally be the case. A response from that location to Reisterstown takes about 15 minutes.
Excessive response time; fire involving trapped civilians; critical firefighter injuries. Coincidence?
I joined the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1987, when the department had six battalion chiefs on duty on each shift. Today, there are just three battalion chiefs on duty on each shift. Each chief oversees 16-20 stations. Each chief covers more than 200 square miles. Unlike other departments in the region that assign multiple chief officers on structure fires, Baltimore County dispatches just one. Baltimore County’s fire and EMS personnel are at unacceptable risk of injury and death because there are too few command officers.
I retired as a division chief in February 2012. Throughout my tenure, I remained vehemently opposed to the reduction in command staff that occurred during the 1990s. There are a number of reasons I decided to retire, but my inability to convince the administration of the need to improve command staffing levels (especially in light of Mark’s death) was certainly a factor. I didn’t want to be the chief-in-charge of an incident at which we lost another firefighter whose death might have been prevented by enhancing command staffing.
Two months following my retirement, I met with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. I wanted him to hear from me how dire this situation is. I told him I feared that if command staffing did not improve, another incident would claim the life of a firefighter in Baltimore County. To Gene, the Kirchner family, and to all my brothers and sisters in the Baltimore County Fire Service, I’m praying I was wrong.
Command & control: Retired Baltimore Co. division chief goes public over command staffing after last week’s critical injury.19 comments
NIOSH released reports into the line of duty deaths of two firefighters whose deaths we covered. Below are the reports and some related links. Both men’s names will be added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial during Memorial Weekend, October 6 & 7.
January 19, 2011, Baltimore County, MD, Firefighter Mark Falkenhan:
July 28, 2011, Asheville, NC, Captain Jeff Bowen:
Video: ATF modeling with radio traffic from MD apartment fire that killed Firefighter Mark Falkenhan.15 comments
This is the video (in three parts) the ATF produced to accompany its engineering analysis utilizing Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) of the fire that killed Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan last year. There are links above to the ATF report by Adam St. John P.E., Fire Protection Engineer ATF Fire Research Laboratory and the internal report the Baltimore County Fire Department released in March. The modeling is matched with the fireground and dispatch radio traffic.
Description with video:
This video summarizes the ATF Fire Research Laboratory’s Engineering Analysis of the fire that occurred at 30 Dowling Circle on January 19th, 2011. ATF Fire Protection Engineers were asked to utilize engineering analysis methods, including computer fire modeling, to assist with determining the route of fire spread and the events that led to the firefighter MAYDAY and subsequent Line of Duty Death of Firefighter Mark Falkenhan.
LODD report: Read Baltimore County investigation into death of Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan.11 comments
Excerpt from the Executive Summary:
In fairness to those units involved in this incident, the investigating team had the advantage of examining this incident over the period of several months. Furthermore, given the size and nature of the event, and the fact that arriving crews were met with serious fire conditions and several residents trapped and in immediate danger, all personnel should be commended for their efforts for performing several rescues which prevented an even greater tragedy. The team did not identify a particular primary reason for FF Falkenhan’s death. What were identified were many secondary issues involving but not limited to crew integrity, incident command, strategy and tactics, and communications. These issues are identified and discussed, and recommendations are made in appropriate sections of the report, as well as in a consolidated format in the Appendix.
Some of the issues identified in this report may require some type of change to current practices, policies, procedures or equipment. Most, however, do not. Specifically, the analysis and recommendations regarding Incident Command and Strategy and Tactics show that if current policies and procedures are adhered to, the opportunity for catastrophic problems may be reduced.
Mark Falkenhan was a well-respected and experienced firefighter. He died performing his duties during a very complex incident with severe fire conditions and unique fire behavior coupled with the immediate need to perform multiple rescues of victims in imminent danger. It would be easy if one particular failure of the system could be identified as the cause of this tragedy. We could fix it and move on. Unfortunately it is not that simple. No incident is “routine”. Mark’s death and this report reinforce that fact.
Image from report showing conditions on arrival.
Above is video from WMAR-TV of yesterday’s funeral for Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan. Falkenhan’s 14-year-old son Christian rode on Lutherville’s 1954 Mack that took his father to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
Click the image above to see more pictures from Essex-Middle River Patch. More pictures can be found at BaltimoreSun.com.
The Baltimore Sun today has an editorial about the death of Firefighter Falkenhan that is well worth reading. Here is an excerpt:
The word “hero” gets used too often to describe the most pedestrian of admirable behaviors, from the star quarterback who marches his team for a winning score to the kid who finds a missing wallet and turns it in. But exceptional bravery, special ability, exceptional deeds and noble qualities — those are what define an authentic hero, and Mr. Falkenhan lacked for none of them.
It was not by accidental circumstance or naiveté that he ended up on the third story of that Hillendale apartment complex in the midst of a fire, searching for missing residents. He knew the risks as well as anyone could. But his selfless desire to help others drove him forward into the flames.
That’s what made him exceptional. That’s why his legacy is important. That’s why the community is in his debt.
WUSA-TV in Washington, DC (with assistance from CNN & WBAL-TV), has been kind enough to provide live streaming of the pool camera inside Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore during the funeral this morning for Firefighter Mark Falkenhan of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company in Baltimore County. Firefighter Falkenhan was killed last Wednesday during an apartment fire. The funeral is scheduled for 11:00 AM EST.
Updated details on the funeral for Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan. News coverage of the viewing.2 comments
The video above is from Saturday’s viewing.
A reminder that the viewing for Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan who was killed during an apartment fire last Wednesday continues tonight from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM at Ruhl Armory, 1035 York Road in Towson, Maryland.
The funeral is at 11:00 AM on Monday at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N Charles St in Baltimore. Firefighter Falkenhan will be buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, Fallen Heroes Section, 200 East Padonia Road in Timonium.
Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Michael Robinson asked us to pass along this information about the funeral.
Line of Duty Funeral: 1/24/11
FF Mark G. Falkenhan
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen: 5200 North Charles Street, Baltimore Maryland
Take I-83 from the Baltimore Beltway (695) to exit 9A –Cold Spring Lane (East) to Left on North Charles Street to the Cathedral. Personnel will direct from that point.
Funeral specific information:
- Weather forecast calls for highs of 20-25 degrees with no precipitation
- Personnel are encouraged to “carpool” parking is extremely limited
- Apparatus should arrive by 0815 and other vehicles by 0900
- Uniform of the day is Class “A” or if not issued Class “B” with Blauer jacket
- Appropriate clothing for the cold: “layering is encouraged”
- All badges are to be covered by “mourning bands”
- Blauer jackets may be worn until the procession arrives/lineup of personnel and at other times when not in official formations.
- Reflective type issued coats shall be removed in church once seated
- Honor Guard personnel will provide direction on line-up position etc.
- Seating is limited to approximately 1500 so all may not be seated in the church-
- Rehab to include: food, drinks, sanitation, medical and heated shelter will be provided at the site.
- Ground support is available on site and can be accessed via logistics @ICP
- Following the funeral, the procession will be initiated and specific instructions will be provided to the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens. No apparatus will be parked in the cemetery and the BCOPD will provide that direction upon your arrival.
- The incident command post (ICP) can be contacted via TG-195 or 8tac-93 (NPSPAC) for out of county units –radio designation “funeral command”
Evangelyn Code told ABC2 that Lutherville VFC Firefighter Mark Falkenhan rescued her from her third floor apartment during Wednesday night’s fire.
“I was getting ready to jump and he asked me please don’t jump, I’m coming to you with a ladder and he came over with a ladder,” said Code.
She returned to the apartment complex Thursday and told reporter Brian Kuebler:
“He was my hero but I feel bad about what happened, I really do. Knowing he was a volunteer firefighter and leaves his two children, his wife….I feel bad.”
Watch the video above to see Brian’s interview with Evangelyn Code and read the story on ABC2news.com here.
VIEWINGS: Saturday and Sunday, January 22 and 23, from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
Location: Ruhl Armory, 1035 York Rd, Towson
FUNERAL: Monday, January 24, at 11 a.m.
Location: Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., Baltimore
BURIAL: Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 East Padonia Rd., Timonium
News release from the Baltimore County Fire Department:
The Baltimore County fire community today mourns the loss of Mark G. Falkenhan, the Lutherville volunteer firefighter who died in last night’s four-alarm blaze at a Hillendale apartment complex.
In addition to his affiliation with Lutherville VFC, Falkenhan, 43, was a member of Baltimore County’s career fire department for 16 years, from 1990 to 2006. He was a paramedic/firefighter whose assignments included the Fire-Rescue Academy, where he was an instructor. He served at many stations, including Woodlawn, Dundalk, Golden Ring, Essex, Eastview and Fullerton.
Falkenhan resigned in 2006 and was most recently employed with the U.S. Secret Service.
In addition to his membership at Lutherville, he was a life member and past chief of the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance Rescue Co.
The call for the fire at 30 Dowling Circle came in to fire dispatchers at 6:18 p.m. The call came in as a kitchen fire; however, fire investigators have not determined that the fire originated in the kitchen. The fire remains under investigation. Fire Chief John Hohman has asked the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for assistance.
Engine 11 was the first-arriving engine. The fire quickly escalated to a second-alarm, and eventually four alarms worth of equipment were dispatched. About 30 pieces of fire equipment and 100 fire personnel responded.
At some point, Falkenhan called a mayday, indicating he was in distress. He was on the third floor, searching for fire victims. His partner was able to escape through a window on the third floor. Firefighters found Falkenhan on the third floor and moved him to the balcony, where crews delivered him to paramedics. Medic personnel administered advanced life support measures and transported him to St. Joseph Medical Center.
Fire crews rescued two civilians who were critically injured. An adult female was transported to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Burn Center, and an adult male was transported to Sinai Hospital.
Firefighters contained the fire to a single garden-apartment building. About 30 residents were displaced. Baltimore County’s Office of Emergency Management has been working with the Red Cross and the building management to help those victims. There are twenty residents have been able to return to their apartments.
A firefighter has not died while engaged in firefighting operations in Baltimore County since the Shiller’s furniture store fire in Dundalk 26 years ago, where three firefighters were lost.
Standard Fire Department procedures call for a full investigation of any line of duty death. That investigation already is under way.
Falkenhan is survived by his wife, Gladys, and two children aged 14 and five
Mark Falkenhan was also an Emergency Services Specialist with the United States Secret Service. He began work there in 2006. According to the USSS, “As part of the Emergency Medicine Section at the James J. Rowley Training Center, he was not only responsible for providing emergency medicine, rescue and fire-fighting services at the training facility, but was responsible for training Secret Service agents,officers and other critical response employees to respond to life threatening incidents.”
Statement from U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan on the death of Emergency Services Specialist Mark Falkenhan:
On Wednesday evening, January 19, the U.S. Secret Service lost not only a dedicated employee, but a close friend, colleague and public servant. Mark Falkenhan, a four-year employee of the Secret Service and a firefighter with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company, died while responding to a four-alarm fire in Maryland.
Mark is one of many Secret Service employees who volunteer their off-duty time to local fire and emergency rescue departments. Mark’s devotion to public service was indicative of the strength of character he possessed and we share in the grief of his loss.
The Secret Service family is focused on supporting Mark’s family and colleagues through this difficult time.
UPDATE: Baltimore County fire chief confirms death of Firefighter Mark Falkenhan, Lutherville VFC. Mayday called after flashover at apartment fire in Hillendale.27 comments
Photo by Matthew Barnard – MD22 from Alertpage.
(This post update at 1:00 AM EST with latest news coverage & videos)
It is with deep regret that we advise you of the Line of Duty Death of Baltimore County FF Mark Falkenhan, 43. Mark was killed this evening after becoming trapped and calling a mayday in a multi-family dwelling fire and suffering massive burns. FF Falkenhan had recently left as a career Baltimore County FF to take a position with the United States Secret Service. However, he was an active member of Baltimore County’s Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company (Station 30), a part of the Baltimore County FD. Mark was also an Instructor with MFRI, the Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute. He leaves his wife and 2 children, ages 10 & 13 behind.
At around 6:15 p.m., Baltimore County emergency 911 dispatch received a call about a kitchen fire at 30 Dowling Circle in the Towson Crossing apartment complex.
When the first firefighters from the Hillendale fire station arrived, flames could be seen on the second floor of the three-story, 12-unit apartment building, Baltimore County Fire Division Chief Michael Robinson said.
“They had fire showing and reports of multiple subjects trapped,” Robinson said. “Our crews immediately went to work and were able to make several rescues, including two civilians … The fire quickly escalated to a second alarm.”
Firefighters had to make a third rescue: A fellow firefighter was trapped.
“At 6:47, what is known as a ‘Mayday,’ which is a distress call, was signaled,” Robinson said. “The incident commander picked up on that. … The crews go into a rescue mode.”
Falkenhan’s death comes just eight days after his uncle, William Falkenhan, a retired firefighter himself, died.
Baltimore County paramedic Lt. Sam Snyder knew both Falkenhans well and spoke with Mark at his uncle’s viewing.
“He always kept in touch with everyone and stayed active through volunteering,” Snyder added. “Plus, he was such a great husband and father. He always talked about his sons. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
The initial call went out at 6:18 p.m. as a kitchen fire in the Towson Crossing apartment complex at 30 Dowling Circle and was quickly upgraded, Armacost said. About 20 minutes later, Falkenhan sent out a “mayday” distress call, Armacost said.
She said Falkenhan’s partner leapt from the third-floor window and crews eventually found Falkenhan on a third-floor balcony.
Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman identified the fallen firefighter as Mark Falkenhan, 43, a volunteer member of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co.
“I just left the hospital, and we lost a firefighter this evening at this scene,” Hohman said. “I knew him personally. (I) met him on his first day on the job when he came to work with us. He was a friend and he a great person.”
Hohman said preliminary informaiton indicated that a fire ignited in a basement kitchen, but conditions were too intense for firefighters to enter the building immediately.
“The fire was knocked and crews moved to the second and third floors to search for any possible victims,” Hohman said. “A flashover occurred. One firefighter escaped successfully, one firefighter succumbed to his injuries at the hospital and passed away.”
“We have an inherently dangerous profession,” Hohman said. “We will pull together and we will make certain that our all procedures were followed, and if not, (we will identify) what we can learn from this.”