Baltimore County officials honor firefighters, citizens for saving lives

Gene Kirchner remembered at ceremony

TOWSON, Md. - Roman Spare was 5 years old when he saved his mother’s life.

Cathy Maddox was sitting at home when her neighbor called on her to resuscitate his brother.

Ofc. William Johnson was on duty when he heard the screams coming from the burning Seagram’s plant.

They are a sample of the heroes honored Tuesday by Baltimore County officials at the annual 2014 Commendations Awards ceremony in Towson.

Honors were bestowed to 104 firefighters, 10 citizens and one police officer for saving lives and answering the call of duty.

Johnson had arrived on scene at the old Seagram’s Plant in Dundalk on July 27, 2013 before firefighters. He saw the multi-story building going up in flames before he heard the screams of a man trapped inside.

Without thinking twice, Johnson scaled a 12-foot fence to reach the injured man and pulled him to safety, minutes before a part of the burning building collapsed on the spot where the man was stuck.

Johnson was awarded the Baltimore County Fire Department’s third highest honor, the Bronze Star, which is given to an individual who performs an act of exceptional bravery while trying to save someone in a situation with serious risk to himself or herself.

Teams of firefighters were presented commendations and distinguished service awards and citations for heroic acts ranging from the Rosedale train derailment to everyday acts of heroism like resuscitating a lifeless 2-year-old in Catonsville on March 20, 2013 or helping a religious woman give birth in her third-floor Garrison apartment on Jan. 21, 2013.

“A lot of people within our department say it’s what anyone would do, but that simply is not true,” Baltimore County Fire Chief John Hohman said.  “To them, what needed to be done was obvious. Other human beings were depending on them and they rose to the occasion. …  

“Gratitude really isn’t necessary and it’s not what anybody is here for or what they do their job for. But it sure is nice.”

Roman Spare isn’t a firefighter, but he still played to the crowd as they gave him a standing ovation for saving his mother’s life.

He was 5 years old last June when his mother slipped into a mild coma while hooked up to a dialysis machine in their Dundalk home. He didn’t panic when he couldn’t wake his mother Amy Diperna.

“He’s very smart,” Kris Spare, Roman’s father said.

Roman spent an hour trying to break into his mother’s cell phone. When he finally entered the right code, he called his father Kris who alerted paramedics to the situation. Roman had no problem embracing the hero title

“He wants to be an Avenger like Iron Man,” Kris said. “I told him, he’s daddy’s Iron Man.”

As Roman crossed the stage to collect his Citizen’s Certificate of Merit, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz placed a plastic red firefighter helmet on his head.

Everybody stood up,” Kris said. “It’s like something you see in a movie. People in the crowd were crying. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life. It was overwhelming. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Cathy Maddox was inside her Perry Hall home when a neighbor rushed over with an alarming request. The brother of a 22-year-old man she had known since he was 4 wasn’t breathing.

The registered nurse ran across the street, pulled him out of bed and immediately began performing CPR.

“I worked on him until the paramedics got there,” Maddox said. “They got him back and lost him, and got him back again and lost him again – it was kind of touch and go. He spent nine days in the hospital. But now he’s doing great. He’s a volunteer firefighter and in EMT school.”

Maddox’s husband Rich said it was his wife who inspired the neighbor to enroll in EMT school.

“I’ve been in that situation before in hospitals but not in the field and not working on somebody that I’ve known since he was 4 years old,” Maddox said of that dreadful June 6 day.” It’s extremely important, learning how to properly give CPR. Babies choke in restaurants. Old people fall over. It’s not hard to do. It doesn’t take a lot of time. You never know when you’re going to save someone’s life.”

The ceremony closed with a speech from firefighter Jamie Cahn about Gene Kirchner, the 25-year-old Reisterstown firefighter who died in the line of duty last year. 

“He was just 25 years old,” Cahn stressed. “He knew that someone was in danger and needed help. He did what he was trained to do.”

Kirchner was a teenager when he decided to follow in his siblings' footsteps and join the fire service. He responded to more than 3,000 911 calls over his young career.

“He was very dedicated and committed to serving the people of his community,” Craig Coleman, a fellow Reisterstown firefighter and longtime friend of the Kirchner family said. “It didn’t matter if he was riding the fire engine or the ambulance or people who would just call the fire house and need help. That’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to give back to the community.”

Coleman drove the fire engine the night Kirchner died.

“It’s another reminder,” Coleman said. “You could be home

with your family and leave and go to the fire house to help someone you don’t even know and maybe not come home that night. You’re leaving your family, your spouse or your kids and just never know what danger is out there. But you don’t think about that. You’re trained to do the best you can do.”

Kirchner was posthumously awarded the Departmental Medal of Honor and Purple Heart at his funeral on May 5, 2013. 

The commendations ceremony began with the promotion of 55 firefighters to higher ranks and the graduation of the 102nd recruitment class, which includes six military veterans and 22 emergency medical technicians among other professionals.

 

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