This story is updated from an earlier version.
Members of Susquehanna Hose Company are mourning the loss of their fellow volunteer Nathan Flynn, a Howard County firefighter who died battling a seven-alarm house fire in Clarksville in Howard County on Monday morning.
Flynn, who went by “Nate,” was a volunteer with Susquehanna Hose Company in Havre de Grace since March 2017, Chief Scott Hurst said, and was part of the House 5 Chapel Road station. Many members also went to school with Flynn’s wife.
He was on the hose company’s swiftwater rescue team and was on Harford County’s technical rescue team, he said.
“He was very well-respected, very well-trained, very well-discplined,” Hurst said. “And a great guy to hang out with.”
Flynn lived in Havre de Grace, where where Mayor William T. Martin annouced the city’s lights downtown will be illuminated in red for one week in honor of Flynn.
“The City was overcome with grief this morning as we learned of the passing of one of our own, Nathan Flynn,” Martin said in a statement. “Nathan, a son of Havre de Grace, was part of the revered legacy of the Susquehanna Hose Company and an honored member of our community. I ask everyone to keep Nathan and his family in your prayers as our city, and the entire state, mourns his passing.”
Hurst and other fire company members were gathered early Monday morning at the Chapel Road firehouse, where they remembered Flynn.
“We’re talking, having breakfast, we had peer support support people come in,” Hurst said. “At a time like this it’s best to surround yourself with your brothers and sisters in the fire service. We talk about him – it’s kind of how things go in tragic situations like this.”
The firehouse is draped in black bunting and the company flag is at half staff, he said.
Hurst remembers his first impression of Flynn, who joined the fire company two weeks before its annual banquet last year.
“We had just met him, he and his wife came to the banquet, had a really good time, dancing,” Hurst said, “and I remember thinking this guy is going to fit in really well with the fire company.”
A colleague dying in the line of duty is a reminder to all the members of the dangers of what they do – whether paid or volunteer, Hurst said.
“When I first heard, I thought of his wife and kids, then the banquet moment, and then I think, I have four years left on the job,” said Hurst, who is also a paid firefighter for Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department. “It really hits home about getting through your career as a firefighter without losing your life. I’ve been thinking about that all morning, as has everybody else.”
Firefighters think of the risks and what happened in Howard County Monday morning and try and figure out what happened.
“It’s hard to explain, but there’s definitely a thought process about what we go through, what we do for a living,” Hurst said.
It could be a fall in a structure, like Monday’s accident, or being hit by a car while responding to a call on the side of the road, or a cardiac arrest on a scene, he said.
“The only way to prevent that is through training, safety. Sometimes you do everything right, by the book but sometimes there’s that unknown out there you just can’t control,” he said.
Susquehanna Hose will be doing whatever it can to assist Flynn’s family and Howard County Fire Department.
“He made the ultimate sacrifice and we will do whatever we can to honor him,” Hurst said.
Tech rescue team
Flynn was the kind of guy you wanted with you on a call, said Steve Hinch, crew chief of the Harford County Technical Rescue Team, which Flynn joined at the end of March.
“It’s hard to describe. You want somebody like Nate. You want him because he’s full of energy. He’s young guy who wanted to learn,” said Hinch, who also took a class with Flynn at the University of Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute. “You can sit in a classroom and say ‘when something happens, that’s one of the guys we want.’ You say ‘if we get into a jam, he’s one of the guys I want.’ Nate was one of those guys.”
The TRT responds to swiftwater rescues, rope rescues, confined space rescues, animal rescues – “we do all of that,” said Hinch, chief of the volunteer Aberdeen Fire Department who retired after 30 years with Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department.
As a TRT member, Flynn responded to at least for or five emergencies, including two at Rocks State Park, Hinch said.
A member of Howard County’s technical rescue team, Flynn was committed to learning as much as he could about Harford County’s equipment, because even though it is similar, each piece varies just a little, Hinch said. He and Flynn would meet weekly to go over the differences.
“He wanted to be that guy that makes our team better, he wants to understand the little things so he doesn’t make any mistakes,” Hinch said. “He was truly dedicated to what he was working for as a firefighter.”
Flynn was so committed to learning that just last week he submitted an application to attend an eight-day structure collapse training in Virginia Beach in October. Classes are 10 to 12 hours a day.
“To get that certification, you have to have dedication to do the job and do that training,” Hinch said. “He was one of the first to raise his hands and volunteer to be considered.”
“Those are the guys, especially in this line of work … willing to work and do the training to become more proficient and provide a better service to Harford County, and he was willing to do that,” Hinch said.
Hinch was on a swiftwater rescue call Monday morning when he and his fellow team members heard about Flynn’s death in the line of duty.
“It truly is hard. It hurts,” Hinch said. “You see a young guy, in his prime, willing to take the training to do the different skills, and now he’s gone.”
It makes you realize it can happen to anyone, including yourself, he said.
“In the back of your head, the job we’re in, anything you do any time of day, any call you go on, something can happen and you’re going to pass,” Hinch said. “You try to block it out mentally, but we know it’s there. Then you sit back and take a deep breath and think of what you can do for the family, for Howard County, for Susquehanna Hose, to make this a little bit easier.”
Hinch said it’s going to hurt for a while.
“For the job we do, it’s hard to explain that we try to get over this, we have a grieving period and eventually the true pain goes away,” he said. “But we will never forget him as person, firefighter, father, being able to do what he has done.”
Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered that U.S. and Maryland flags be flown at half-staff from Monday through sunset on the day of Flynn’s interment.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Howard County Firefighter Nathan Flynn, a 13-year veteran of the department, husband, and father who bravely ran toward danger to save others’ lives in a seven-alarm fire in Clarksville, Md. The First Lady and I send our prayers and deepest condolences to his family, fellow firefighters, and all of his friends and loved ones in the communities he selflessly served for over a decade,” Hogan said in a statement.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman also lowered the Harford County flag.
“On behalf of the citizens of Harford County we salute Nate for his service and his bravery, and we are grief-stricken for the young family that he leaves behind. Our community will support them in any way that they need during this difficult time,” Glassman said in a statement. “We pray for Nate, his family, and his fire service brothers and sisters in both counties.”
Though Flynn died in Howard County, it’s a difficult loss for the Harford volunteer fire system.
“Havre de Grace is a pretty tight-knit community. It’s a loss for the volunteer system in the county,” said Glassman, a longtime volunteer fireman, in a telephone interview Monday morning. “Being a professional firefighter or police officer, it’s a reminder that it’s a dangerous situation each and every call, and you just never know.”
He recalled the recent death of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio, who lived in Fallston.
“It seems like we’ve lost a few folks who work in other counties, but they’re still part of the fabric here in Harford County. I think we feel the loss here almost as much as the county where they worked,” Glassman said.
At its meeting Monday evening, the Harford County Board of Education stood for a moment of silence in tribute to Flynn.
Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick, who represents the Havre de Grace area, said Flynn’s children attend Havre de Grace schools and the community is devastated by the loss.
“This a real tragedy for us in the Havre de Grace community,” he said. “It’s a heartache for all of us.”