Families of fallen heroes face tribute with sadness, pride

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.

She was the first volunteer firefighter in her family, her younger twin brothers following in her footsteps.

"As a firefighter, you don't think about that," Brezicki said, of the dangers of the job. "If we thought about that, we would never do it. This [Kirchner's death] is a true reminder of the risks involved in our jobs. It's a reality check."

Brezicki hasn't been on a fire call since her brother's death.

Both women have dealt with a variety of emotions, but neither has been angry.

"There's no anger directed at anybody, even the criminal," Schneider said. "There's a sadness for my family."

"There's sadness and wondering why, what happened during that fire for him to take that mask off?" Brezicki said.

Both have relied on the support from family and friends and police and firefighter organizations.

"I feel very fortunate and blessed to go through this and have so many people rally around our family," said Schneider, who has a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old stepson. "We've gotten a lot of support."

"The fire department and the entire Reisterstown community ... and our friends and family have been huge getting us through this," said Brezicki, the mother of a 22-month-old. "Gene's friends as well. That's an important piece."

It is a comfort to both women that their loved ones are being honored Friday.

"Their sacrifices are recognized. That is very comforting thing to hear," Schneider said, of the recognition. "It's nice that other people recognize their sacrifices."

The May 2 ceremony is at 1 p.m., at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Road, Timonium.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad