Fallen Heroes

Shelly Brezicki, of Hampstead, and Ericka Schneider, of Manchester, will be among those whose family members will be honored at the 29th annual Fallen Heroes ceremony at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on Friday, May 2. Brezicki's brother, Gene Kirchner, died from injuries sustained fighting a house fire. Schneider's husband, Jason, was as a member of a Baltimore County Police SWAT unit who was killed during a house raid in Catonsville. (Photo by Phil Grout / April 23, 2014)

As they sat on the couch in Ericka Schneider's living room, Schneider and Shelly Brezicki discovered they knew many of the same people in the Hampstead/Manchester area.

The two even learned they were waitresses together briefly at J&P pizza in Hampstead.

Both women are 35.

Schneider, who grew up in Carroll County, is a North Carroll graduate.

Brezicki, who grew up in Reisterstown, is a teacher at East Middle School and girls varsity lacrosse coach at Manchester Valley High.

Tragic events last year have given them something else in common.

Schneider's husband, Jason, and Brezicki's brother, Gene Kirchner, each died in the line of duty.

Both men will be honored at the Fallen Heroes ceremony on May 2 at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

Kirchner, a volunteer firefighter for Reisterstown Fire department, was a nine-year veteran. The 25-year-old was found inside of a house fire on April 24 and died eight days later on May 2, 2013.

Schneider, a member of Baltimore County Police Department's SWAT team, was killed during an early-morning search warrant in Catonsville on Aug. 28, 2013.

Both women know Friday's ceremony will be filled with mixed emotions.

'National Fallen Heroes Day will be tough," Brezicki said. "Just going back there ever. It is going to be a pretty tough day."

"I don't like big crowds," Schneider said. "The viewing and funeral were extremely tough for me. I'm not a big crowd person.

For both Jason Schneider and Kirchner, their jobs made them who they were. Both families had to accept that — and a schedule that required both men to leave at any minute, disrupting a date, family event or holiday gathering.

"You know that going into it," Schneider said. "How stressful for them if you didn't. They need to come home to a caring and supportive environment. They see the worst. How terrible it would be to complain."

"If the siren blew, off he went," Brezicki said. "You recognize as a family it is part of what they do. I got married far enough away he couldn't make a call."

Jason Schneider had been a member of Baltimore County's SWAT team for nine years and had done thousands of raids, probably a couple a week, Schneider said.

She rarely let herself think about what could happen on one of those arrests.

"Sometimes, it would be hours before I got a phone call," she said. "He had a lot of experience. I thought he knew exactly what he was doing."

Kirchner had logged in an estimated 3,000 fire calls, Brezicki said. When he wasn't working, he was at the station.