When the Baltimore County volunteer ran into a burning apartment building Wednesday in the Hillendale area, he was doing what he always did, using his instincts and his training, looking for cues about the risks he was taking. "Up until those last few moments, Mark did the right thing," said Division Chief Michael W. Robinson, his former boss at the Baltimore County Fire-Rescue Academy, who had known Falkenhan for a quarter-century. "In this case, the risk played itself out."
A 43-year-old volunteer firefighter and father of two boys, Falkenhan died in the fire after sending a "mayday" distress signal, his body found on the building's third floor by a rescue team. Two residents of the Towson Crossing complex were critically injured.
"He's the fire service version of a Renaissance man," Kyrle Preis III, director of the county's Emergency Medical Services Division, said of Falkenhan, with whom he went through the fire academy, both graduating in 1990. "He's a search-and-rescue guy, tactical rescue, a paramedic, a certified diver, he drove the equipment, he became fire chief of the volunteer force down there in Middle River. He had all these disciplines, and he taught all that as well. You can't think of anything the guy couldn't do."
Three of his fellow firefighters, working on an ambulance behind the station Thursday, declined to comment on what had happened. "We're dealing with a lot of things right now," one of them said.
Mary Catherine Haines, a first cousin to Falkenhan, said at her Dundalk home that everyone in the family is "in such a state of shock — we just can't believe it." Falkenhan's death was especially disturbing to Haines and her relatives because it occurred only a week after the passing of her own father, William H. Falkenhan Sr., a 91-year-old retired Baltimore County firefighter and Falkenhan's uncle. At the funeral Saturday, Falkenhan served as a pallbearer for his uncle, who had inspired him years ago to become a firefighter.
"At his graduation from the fire academy, Mark gave a speech, and he said he had big boots to fill," Haines recalled. "He followed my dad into the Baltimore County Fire Department and now he's followed him into heaven."
To add to the family's woes, Falkenhan's father-in-law, Edwin Emkey Sr., who was an honorary county fire chief — a title seldom awarded, according to Robinson — died just last month. He was given a funeral with full firefighter's honors.
Having attended that event, Falkenhan's 14-year-old son, Christian — the other son is 5 — told Haines that he "couldn't handle another funeral so soon" and declined to go to William Falkenhan's last week. Now that the boy's own father is dead, Haines said, "I can't even imagine what he must be feeling."
Haines remembered the day Falkenhan proposed to his future wife, Gladys — Emkey's daughter — on the beach in Ocean City, during a Firefighters' Week outing: "There was a big crowd of us, maybe 25 people, from his natural family and his firefighters' family, leaning over the railing. We were all screaming to Gladys, 'Say yes! Say yes!' "
Falkenhan is survived by his father, Casper Falkenhan, who is 85, and two siblings. His mother died several year ago, Haines said.
In memory of Falkenhan, Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered that state and U.S. flags be flown at half-staff until sunset Monday, the day of his funeral. The county Fire Department's commendations board posthumously awarded its Medal of Honor to Falkenhan, for action "above and beyond the call of duty, at the grave risk of personally being killed or seriously injured." The board also awarded Falkenhan a Purple Heart, given to members "who, in the course of firefighting, rescue or emergency operations, receive a grievous or life-threatening injury, through no fault of their own."
Viewings 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. A funeral will take place 11 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. Interment will follow at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.