A year ago this week, Baltimore County fire and rescue personnel were mourning the loss of a beloved firefighter.
Reisterstown Firefighter Gene Kirchner, 25, was searching for a victim in a house fire when things went terribly wrong.
He had no radio, and a colleague who heard his PASS alarm called a 'Mayday.'
"Firefighter Kirchner (was found) in a bedroom lying face down between the door and the bed...He is not wearing his face piece, his hood, or his helmet. They are unsure if he is wearing his gloves as they start the process of dragging him from the room..." according to an internal investigative report released Thursday, the anniversary of the incident.
Fellow firefighters dragged their unconscious colleague head first on his back down the stairs to the front porch. He was in cardiac arrest. He died on May 2.
Following interviews with firefighters involved, the investigative team made a number of recommendations, and discussed why they should be implemented.
- Company officers shall ensure that crew integrity is maintained at all times by all personnel operating in an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) environment. Crews should work in pairs when practical.
- No personnel shall operate in an IDLH environment without a portable radio.
- Crews should frequently drill using the procedures for initiating a MAYDAY as stipulated in SOP Tactical 09.
- Incident commanders must understand that an early initial 360° gives them the information needed to develop effective strategy and tactics for incident mitigation.
- The Rapid Intervention Team is a vitally important part of the Incident Command System.
- Personnel should use caution when passing a hydrant that isin their direction of travel and close to the fire building.
- Personnel should be prepared for unexpected building construction and occupancy features that are not readily visible that can affect fire dynamics.
- When indicated, officers and crews should embrace the concept of transitional fire attack and ventilation coordinated with fire attack.
- Frequent updates from Dispatch help crews prepare for strategy and tactical decisions upon arrival.
- Control of incident communications is an effective aid to clear command and control.
- When units arrive at the scene, they should immediately call “arrived” so that a proper sequence of events time-stamp occurs.
- Personnel must fully don SCBA before entering an IDLH environment.
- The ability to buddy breath and diagnose SCBA difficulties in an? IDHL environment are critical skills for survival that require constant training to ensure proficiency.
- As most personal protective equipment (PPE) is issued to and under the custody of individual personnel, it is imperative that personnel regularly inspect this PPE.
Baltimore County Fire Chief John Hohman wrote: " I am deeply moved by the response of Firefighter Kirchner’s family over the past months. They have handled this tragedy with poise, dignity and strength. In so doing, they already continue the propensity for caring that was a part of Gene’s character. Gene did what he loved and knew what he was doing; his decision to risk all for others was a conscious one..."
He also commended the Reisterstown Vol. Fire Department for their assistance in compiling the report, and their compassion since the incident. "Your posthumous tributes to Gene have moved us and honor your company’s outstanding legacy."
Hohman added: "Finally, let me say that there is no monument, no medal and no ceremony that can honor Firefighter Gene Kirchner as much as our decision to emulate his commitment to public service. Each of us owes it to him to do this. This is the way we pay tribute to our heroes."