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Reisterstown volunteer firefighter dies of injuries

A volunteer firefighter who joined the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company as a teenager more than a decade ago died Thursday of injuries sustained in a fire last week that also killed another man.

Gene Kirchner, 25, died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, officials said.

"Everybody is extremely shocked by this," said Craig Hewitt, assistant chief of the fire company. "They're missing Gene right now. He was a very key part of our fire company, and he will be greatly missed."

Kirchner was one of the first firefighters to respond to the house fire on Hanover Road early on the morning of April 24.

He tried to save a man trapped inside, officials said. Kirchner was found unconscious on the second floor when a county response team arrived, officials said.

Resident Steven Starr, 58, died in the fire, which remains under investigation. Four other occupants escaped.

Kirchner's twin brother, Will, and sister, Shelly Brezicki, also volunteer with the Reisterstown fire company, officials said.

Fellow firefighters described Kirchner as dedicated. Hewitt said he joined the company's ranks when he was 14 and served as a junior firefighter for two years before becoming a volunteer firefighter.

"He was selfless, well-liked, funny; got along with everybody," Hewitt said. "He liked helping people."

Kirchner's death comes as the company prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary — a parade is scheduled for this month, with an open house in June.

The company had not lost a member in the line of duty since 1928, Hewitt said. Firefighter Monroe Seitz was killed that year when a gasoline tank in a burning car exploded, according to a company history.

Brad Reter owns Reter's Crab House near the Reisterstown station. He joined the fire company more than 30 years ago.

Kirchner had dined at the crab house with other firefighters the evening before the fire. Later that night, "he was on a mission to save lives, not just to put a fire out," Reter said.

On Thursday, Reter leafed through a booklet of community ads and historical photos that the fire company published this week to celebrate the 100th anniversary.

"Here we are, ready after three years of planning, to celebrate the existence of the fire company," Reter said. "Now we'll turn it into a celebration of his life."

A funeral is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills. Kirchner will be buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered state flags to be lowered until sunset on the day of Kirchner's interment.

The county Fire Department said it has begun an internal investigation of Kirchner's death.

"The entire Baltimore County fire service mourns the passing of a very young man and a very dedicated volunteer," said county Fire Chief John Hohman. "This was his passion."

Kirchner's death marks the second death of a Baltimore County firefighter in two years. In January 2011, Lutherville volunteer firefighter Mark Falkenhan, 43, died after a four-alarm apartment fire in Hillendale.

"Sometimes we take for granted the willingness of our first responders to lay down their lives for us," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement. "Today, we're reminded just how much we owe them."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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