Early in life, Mark Falkenhan knew what he wanted to be: a firefighter.
His wife, Gladys, said he decided to become a firefighter after watching the show “Emergency!” as a boy. His uncle, William Falkenhan, a retired firefighter who died on Jan. 11, was also a big influence.
“He used to joke that ‘Emergency!’ made him the person he is today,” Mrs. Falkenhan said during an interview in the dining room of the family's Middle River home Thursday. “He was so dedicated to the job and loved what he did.”
Falkenhan, 43, died after fighting a four-alarm fire in a three-story Hillendale apartment complex Wednesday night, but not before he and other firefighters rescued two trapped residents. Falkenhan becomes the first firefighter in Baltimore County to die in the line of duty fighting a fire since 1984, officials said.
On Thursday, fellow firefighters in Baltimore County and well beyond mourned the loss of a man described by Del. Jim Malone, a retired firefighter and family friend, as a "great firefighter, a great husband and a great father."
Friends, relatives and co-workers—including Fire Chief John J. Hohman—were in and out of the Falkenhan house all day Thursday. The home is decorated with family photos, including one of Mark at the beach with his family and shots of him with his two sons—Christian, 14, and Garrett, 5, both decked out in firefighter gear.
“There was nothing more important to Mark than his family,” Gladys said.
Mark Gray Falkenhan was born Dec. 26, 1967, in Middle River. Shortly after he graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 1986, Falkenhan joined the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance & Rescue Co. He rose to the rank of chief and became a lifetime member.
Falkenhan then joined the Baltimore County Fire Department as an emergency medical technician in 1990.
He married Gladys on Nov. 6, 1993, and became an EMT-Paramedic the following year. He was an instructor at the Fire Rescue Academy and served at various stations across the county—Woodlawn, Dundalk, Golden Ring, Essex, Eastview and Fullerton—before retiring in 2006 to accept a job with the U.S. Secret Service.
“He loved his family first, but his life was the fire department,” his wife said.
Fire Chief Hohman could barely hold back the tears as he reflected on Falkenhan’s life and his devotion to public service. He first met Falkenhan more than two decades ago, when Hohman was the union president and he spent time speaking with those fresh out of the fire academy.
“He was so dedicated to what he did, and I could tell he loved what he did,” Hohman said. “You won’t be able to find a picture or photo out there of Mark that didn’t show that broad smile that went across his face. He enjoyed everything about his life.”
Mrs. Falkenhan said the opportunity to work for the Secret Service was too good to decline, and her husband spent the last four years as an emergency services instructor for the agency.
“Mark knew that the opportunity was a great move for our family, but he didn’t make the decision easily,” Mrs. Falkenhan said. “The hardest part was to leave his brothers behind.”
But he clearly found new brothers in the Secret Service.
“Mark is one of many Secret Service employees who volunteer their off-duty time to local fire and emergency rescue departments,” Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said in a statement. “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."
At the Secret Service’s Emergency Medicine Section at the James J. Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Falkenhan provided emergency medicine, rescue and fire-fighting training. He was also responsible for training Secret Service agents, officers and other critical-response employees to respond to life-threatening situations.
Hohman knows Falkenhan didn’t leave the fire department easily and said he still remembers reading the heartfelt resignation he wrote.
“It just showed how passionate he was about the fire department,” Hohman said. “But I knew going and teaching what he had learned with us to the Secret Service was his second calling.”
That passion for firefighting led him to join the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. about two years ago. He was taking a class on driving the engine at the station when the fire call went out Wednesday.
The fire, which began in a basement kitchen, raced through the three-story building in the Towson Crossing apartment complex on Dowling Circle. Firefighters arrived shortly after the 6:15 p.m. 911 call, and the blaze quickly escalated to four alarms.
Mark Falkenhan arrived with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. and entered the building with his partner, Dennis Fulton. They were on the third floor when it's believed they were suddenly overwhelmed by a huge burst of flames known as a "flashover."
Fulton escaped by diving off the balcony and sliding face-first down a ladder.
Falkenhan did not make it out.
He signaled a "Mayday" distress call at 6:47 p.m., and rescue workers rushed to return to the third floor. They pulled Falkenhan out of the building and down the ladder, then performed advanced life-support measures. He was transported to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Gladys Falkenhan said she knows the firefighters on the scene did everything they could to save her husband. She also knows he would have done the same for his fellow firefighters.
“He cared for everyone that he ever met,” Mrs. Falkenhan said. “Everyone he met was his friend and was so loved. We’re all going to miss him.”
Outside the fire department, Mark Falkenhan’s main passion was his family and spending time with his two sons. Mr. Falkenhan enjoyed watching his sons play soccer and lacrosse. He was also an avid Navy football fan and held season tickets to Midshipmen games for many years.
Along with his wife and sons, Mr. Falkenhan is survived by his father, Casper Falkenhan; his sister, Mary Lou Farnsworth; a brother, Eric Falkenhan; his mother-in-law, Etta Emkey; his brother-in-law, John Emkey, and several nieces and nephews.
Mr. Falkenhan’s mother, Gloria Falkenhan (nee Gray), died in 2008 while his father-in-law, Edwin Emkey Sr., died last month.
Viewings for Mark Falkenhan will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Ruhl Armory, 1035 York Road in Towson. Funeral services will take place 11 a.m. on Monday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles Street in Baltimore.
Political reporter Bryan P. Sears contributed to this story.