Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company firefighter Gene Kirchner, who died after searching for victims in a house fire, was not wearing his face mask, gloves or helmet, according to a departmental report released a year after the fatal blaze.

Kirchner, 25, a veteran firefighter, died days after a call to Hanover Road in Reisterstown on April 24, 2013. The Baltimore County Fire Department's report said Kirchner was found alone, lying face down in an upstairs bedroom between the door and the bed, without his face piece, hood or helmet.

The report said it is unclear why Kirchner didn't have the equipment on, and that witnesses at the scene said he had been wearing it when he entered the home.

The report said it's imperative for firefighters to wear their breathing equipment, which includes a mask and air tank, before entering structures "to avoid respiratory exposure to products and conditions of fire."

If firefighters have a problem with equipment, the report said, they should immediately issue a "mayday" call, letting others know they are in trouble, and leave the building. The report also found that Kirchner's equipment was in good condition.

Kirchner and a second firefighter with Special Unit 418 were the first to arrive at the blaze, followed by Engine 56 from the Franklin fire station about two minutes later, the report said. He and another firefighter had gone to the second floor in search of victims, where they encountered heavy smoke and high heat at the top of the stairs.

When Kirchner was found, he was dragged to the front porch and taken to Northwest Hospital. He died May 2, 2013, at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Gene Kirchner was an exceptionally trained and experienced firefighter; he was grievously injured doing a job for which he had prepared," Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman wrote in a letter included in the report. "At the Hanover Road fire, he did what was expected of him; he tried to locate someone trapped and in need of help."

The cause of the blaze was ruled "undetermined," the report said, but it began in the kitchen on the first floor.

Resident Steven Starr, 58, was later found in the second-floor hallway, near the bottom of the steps leading to the attic. He died as a result of the fire. Four other residents safely escaped.

The report, completed by an investigation committee made up of fire officials, made 14 recommendations, including requiring crews to work in pairs, that all personnel carry a portable radio, and that crews regularly practice procedures for mayday calls.

The report notes that Special Unit 418 had a portable radio, but neither Kirchner nor the other firefighter took it with them in the house.

The report also said the early mayday signal transmitted by Engine 56 improved Kirchner's chances for survival and helped other responding units adjust their response.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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