Their voices breaking and sometimes halting, men who served beside Nathan Flynn gathered for his funeral Saturday and described the 34-year-old Howard County firefighter as a consummate professional and a “student of the fire service” who always wanted to train more and master everything he did, on the job and off.
Whether putting out a fire at a stranger’s house or fixing the leaky roof at a friend’s, Flynn “had to know everything about the things he did,” said Brandon Thibeault, a lieutenant with the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, where Flynn served for 13 years until his death while fighting a fire Monday morning.
“Nate carried this mentality on the job,” Thibeault said. “He was dedicated, committed, more than passionate, motivated and always, always willing to learn more.”
“He loved his family and he loved the fire service,” said William Anuszewski, Howard County’s deputy fire chief.
“He became an asset and an inspiration,” added Franklin Roth, chaplain of the fire company in Havre de Grace where Flynn served as a volunteer.
Hundreds of firefighters from across the region joined Flynn’s relatives, friends and comrades at a church in Harford County to mourn the death and remember the life of the first member of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services to be killed in the line of duty.
Flynn died after he fell through the floor of a burning house in Clarksville in Howard County. The firefighter lived with his wife and five children in Harford County.
The funeral service — with honor guard and bagpipers, interludes of country music and a fly-over of law enforcement helicopters — was held at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa. Flynn’s flag-draped casket was borne there by Howard County’s Engine 101, the one he was assigned to on the day of his death.
Patrick Mooney, friends with Flynn since they served in a fire company in Pennsylvania, also described him as deeply conscientious: “Nate was never satisfied with just being good. He wanted to be best.”
When Flynn stepped aboard Engine 101 on Monday, Mooney assured the mourners, he was well prepared for the job ahead.
“I’m not sure of all the details of his assignment or what exactly happened,” Mooney said. “I do know that if he was assigned to the line that day, he came in and made sure his lines were packed to his standards, that his air pack was full, his flashlight bright, his irons sharpened and polished.”
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said Flynn’s death marked “one of the toughest days our county will ever face.”
Along with Gov. Larry Hogan and Richard Ruhl, president of the Howard County Professional Firefighters Association, Kittleman praised the first responders in the church, and pledged support for Flynn’s family.
“Nate put our community before himself,” Kittleman said. “We will never forget his sacrifice.”
Hogan called Flynn “a hero called much too soon.”
John Butler, the Howard County fire chief, posthumously promoted Flynn to lieutenant. It was not an honorary promotion, Butler noted, but one that Flynn deserved. He presented Flynn’s lieutenant collar pins and badge to his widow.
Celeste Flynn had not been scheduled to speak but went to the podium, she said, because privately grieving would have been the easy thing to do.
“If you knew Nate,” Celeste Flynn said, “you’d know the easy way wouldn’t fly for him.”
Her husband was an “all-in kind of guy,” and she cited as an example his response to her request to own a few chickens.
“I ended up with 40 chickens, a goat and a pig on a half-acre lot,” she said.
Addressing the firefighters in the church, Celeste Flynn said, “Nate would appreciate the way you guys went all-in for us. He would know how hard this is for you. He knows you’re choking back your tears and you’re working so hard to be brave for us, and he loves you all for it. We love you for it.
“He knew what he was getting us into, even if we didn’t fully understand it. He knew, should this day come, that you would all be here for us, like you have been. I want you to know that I know you’re sorry. We’re sorry too... I know you love us. We love you too.”