Friday, January 21, 2011

Greater Love

It happened a long time ago, back in my 911 days.  I was working the desk one midnight shift when a senior senior citizen called - a lady in her late 90s, she had fallen out of bed, and lying on the floor of her bedroom, needed help to get back in bed.  As luck had it, she fell close enough to be able to reach the phone on the bedside table, so she was able to call, and the 911 operator switched her over to me for a solution.

I found out that there were no close relatives with a key to the house and that her son had put in all sorts of bars and locks to keep her safe in her house, so I sent the fire department on the way over to her and stayed on the line chatting with her so she could stay awake and engaged, and to provide a little companionship.  It was actually she who did most of the talking as the firefighters did their work to get a door off the hinges to help her out.  She told me tales of Towson in her childhood, which was just after the turn of the century - the one before the Y2K - and how they would ride in horse-drawn sleighs, how the farmers came to town on Saturday afternoons for a haircut and supplies and stayed to watch a movie and have a beer or two, and how they would picnic on the courthouse grounds on sunny summer Sundays.  It was all fascinating.

Her son must have hired the people who did security for Donald Trump's casinos, because it seemed to take forever to get into that house without busting things all to heck.  The lady was getting chilly and tired as she related the stories to me on the phone, and then at one point, with just the slightest pause, she said, "Do you think the firemen have given up on getting in here?"

All I could think to say was, "Ma'am, you must not know any firefighters.  They will not give up on getting to you."

FF Falkenhan
It's always been that way, and so it was the night before last in Hillendale - which, when my lady friend was a child was really a hilly dale and is now an area dense with townhouses and apartments - when 911 got a call for a fire at one of those apartments.  It was, literally, a hell of a fire.  It went to four alarms, and it was so intense that when the fire department first arrived they were not able to enter the building to check for people in need of rescue.  As soon as they got the fire knocked down a little, in they went, and as Firefighter Mark Falkenhan of the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company and a partner searched the third floor of the apartment building, a flashover occurred.  This is the result of incomplete combustion, which leaves easily-combustible gases in the air, and when those gases ignite, a whole new fire springs up out of the detritus of the old one.  The other firefighter was able to get out by jumping out a window.  Firefighter Falkenhan was trapped inside and killed.

Whether it's as a career, paid firefighter, which Falkenhan was before he left the County to work for the Secret Service, or as a volunteer, his current capacity,  firefighters have always gone, and will always go to great risk to protect the lives of others.  It's what they do.  It's an American concept all the way, people volunteering in their neighborhood to help with fires and other emergencies, and it dates all the way back to Benjamin Franklin.  It's a harrowing business, fighting fires, and yet those men and women who today are preparing to take Mark Falkenhan to his rest are ready to do the same tomorrow.

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