Mark Gray Falkenhan, 43, became the first Baltimore County firefighter to die in the line of duty in more than 25 years when he was trapped in a third-story apartment during a fire on January 19, 2011, in Hillendale. Falkenhan was searching for residents when he was fatally injured in the fire, caused by a pot of oil on a stove in a lowerlevel apartment. Falkenhan had recently left a career as a Baltimore County firefighter to take a position with the United States Secret Service. But he remained an active member of Baltimore County’s Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company, Station 30. Mark was also an instructor with MFRI, the Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute. He was survived by his wife and two children.
The following are John Gochnauer’s recollections of the tragic events starting at about 1810 hours on Wednesday, January 19th. Wednesday evening was to be the first meeting of the Retiree’s Association for 2011 at 1900 hours. Secretary Clyde Heath and I had arrived on the sixth-floor meeting room early. While setting up for the meeting, we heard sirens coming over Goucher Boulevard from the direction of Station 1. From our vantage point, we could see Engine 1 and Truck 1 weaving their way through evening traffic, heading east toward Joppa Road. I mentioned to Clyde that it was probably a local box because my company 30 pager had not activated and it evidently was not a full box assignment.
Shortly my pager activated. Company 30 was alerted for engine and squad for a basement kitchen fire at Dowling Circle. We both agreed that because of the time of day, it was probably a pot of food. Listening to Talk Group 1 on my pager, we heard that Engine 11 had reported “Smoke Showing.”
Within minutes dispatch was sending out tone after tone. Clyde gave me a puzzled look. The Channel 1 operator started with the assignment. Additional engines, trucks, medic units were now being sent to a Second Alarm Fire Rescue Box at 30 Dowling Circle, which ironically is Lutherville’s Station number. More and more tone alerts were being sent out and the Incident Commander on the scene had requested a Third Alarm. You would expect to have a fire at 2 or 3 am to escalate to a third Alarm that fast, but it seemed a bit unusual for this to occur in the very early evening hours.
We heard reports of occupants being rescued over ladders and sent to the Burn Center. Hadn’t the sound of interior fire alarm system or even the shrill sounds of smoke detectors alerted the residents?
Chief Hohman was scheduled to attend our meeting to swear in the 2011 Officers of the Association and to give a “State of the Department” briefing. Hohman came into the meeting room and told us that he would be unable to attend due to the multi-alarm fire. We all understood the situation.
Just prior to the start of the meeting, my cell phone rang. It was Bernie Smith, past chief of Company 36, telling me that a member of Lutherville had given a “May Day” call at 1847 hours and was trapped in the fire. Informing him of my location, he said he would keep me up-to-date on the status. Within minutes my wife Dee called. Gladys Falkenhan had contacted her and asked which hospital they were taking her husband Mark. We have known Gladys and her immediate family ever since she was a young child. Her father Ed had just passed away the previous month. Because I was a member ofLVFC, she thought I could give her more information. Gladys had learned from close friends in Essex that Mark was the one trapped in the fire. In past firefighter fireground injuries, the Burn Center was the choice for burn victims. Unaware of the extent of Mark’s injuries, I asked Dee to tell Gladys to call Fire Dispatch for the hospital location.
In the opening of our meeting, we had a moment of silence in remembrance of two members of the association who had passed recently. Mark’s uncle, firefighter Bill Falkenhan from Station 6, was one of those remembered.
After leaving the meeting, I went to the Lutherville station where I learned that Mark had succumbed to his injuries and also a fourth alarm had been pulled for manpower. By this time, the Critical Incident Stess Management Team had sent the first alarm crews to Station
30 for debriefing.