It was clear from the beginning that Andrew Hoffman was born to be a firefighter.
His father and grandfather were respected members of the city force. He wore a red fireman's hat at his first birthday party. And after hiding in a freezer during a childhood game of hide-and-seek, he told a sister that if she ever thought to try that spot, she should take a blanket with her.
"He was the definition of a hero. He would help anyone at any time," said a longtime friend, Corinne Remmey, after Hoffman's funeral at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Saturday. "You can't say enough good things about him. [His death] is a nightmare that hasn't stopped."
Hoffman, 27, and his girlfriend, Marie Hartman, 26, were fatally shot at Hoffman's Glen Burnie home last Sunday by a Baltimore City police officer who had dated Hartman, according to Anne Arundel County police. The officer, Christopher Robinson, then took his own life, police said.
The only survivor of the tragedy, Hartman's sister, Brittany, has told Hoffman's family that Andrew died trying to protect Hartman, according to a family statement.
That surprised few who knew him.
"His life ended doing what he always did — helping someone he loved," said Remmey, a friend of six years, as she choked back tears.
About 900 people filled the cathedral for a solemn service bookended by formal Baltimore City Fire Department ceremonies.
Nearly half the attendees were city firefighters, all of whom wore their Class A dress uniforms.
Their shoes spit-shined, their shoulders bearing department patches that read "Pride Protecting People," they stood in silent formation outside the cathedral before the service. They did the same afterward as a bell tolled, a bagpiper played a mournful tune and an emotional crowd waited for pallbearers to emerge with Hoffman's casket.
Battalion Chief Tavon Claggett said he didn't know Hoffman well, but he wasn't surprised at the size of the gathering and the grief on open display.
"He's a fallen brother, and this is what we do as a family," he said.
Family was a central theme at the service, in part because of Hoffman's firefighting pedigree. His grandfather, Sam, was a captain in the Baltimore force, an aide to the fire chief and a 40-year veteran. His father, Bryan Hoffman, is an active battalion chief with 33 years' service.
Both served Engine Co. 14, the company on Hollins Street that celebrated its 125th anniversary this year — and that Andy Hoffman, as most knew him, joined seven years ago.
"He had finally gotten his dream job after so many years of wanting it," said Zack Currie, a family friend who once worked with Hoffman at Federal Express.
It was less than a month ago that Bryan Hoffman spoke at the company's anniversary celebration. Several firefighters said he mentioned how proud he was that Andrew had become a member.
Already in his short career, the younger Hoffman had won the Chief Thomas J. Burke Courage Medal in 2010 for rescuing a man from a fire on South Gilmor Street.
He had heard faint cries for help and battled intense heat and smoke to reach the unconscious man and call others to the scene, according to a family statement.
He also received a commendation last summer for spotting a 3-year-old boy walking alone on the streets of Linthicum, stopping to comfort the child and calling police to get him home.
With a portrait of Andy Hoffman on an easel to his left, an uncle, Doug Workman, told stories of the firefighter/paramedic as a boy, including one time, ironically enough, that he accidentally set his teddy bear on fire.
On another occasion, he "discovered a small ax in the backyard and thoroughly vented every screen" — a foreshadowing, Workman said, of Andy's stardom on the hook and ladder.
Capt. Dominic Fiaschetti, Hoffman's boss at Engine 14, fought back tears as he described a young man who seemed innocent in his first days with the company — he'd registered shock when a man he and other firefighters pulled from a wreck attempted to fight them — but who showed early on that he aspired to greatness and had a "thirst for knowledge like a dry sponge; he could never absorb enough.
"I watched this kid turn into a man," said Fiaschetti, who called giving the speech "the hardest thing I've had to do in my 24 years as a firefighter."
"Andy was stolen from us, and I'm angry," he added. "But … do what Andy would have done — when the bell goes off for that next call, do your job and do it well."
More than one speaker connected Hoffman's work to his life as a Christian. Monsignor Bruce Jarboe, the cathedral's rector, used his homily to say the crowd had gathered to "send out a spiritual 911 call" — and that God would respond as Hoffman always did, "with strength, encouragement and consolation."
Workman found meaning in the New Testament, quoting from the Gospel of John.
"Jesus said, 'Greater love has no man than this — that he would lay down his life for his friend,'" Workman said. "So it was with Andy."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun