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Howard fire department releases internal report on July 2018 death of firefighter

Howard fire department releases internal report on July 2018 death of firefighter
Firefighter Nathan Flynn died while battling a house fire in Clarksville early Monday morning. Flynn fell through the floor of the home. - Original Credit: handout (Handout)

On July 23, 2018, Lt. Nathan Flynn died from injuries he sustained after responding to a seven-alarm house fire in Clarksville. Flynn, 34, of Havre de Grace, is the first member of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services to be killed in the line of duty.

Flynn fell through the first floor of the 8,400-square-foot home into a basement crawlspace, “containing active fire and high heat conditions,” according to the fire department. After being trapped for 22 minutes, Flynn was removed from the house and transported to Howard County General Hospital, where he died from his injuries.

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In response to Flynn’s death, the fire department created an Internal Safety Review Board — comprised of department uniformed personnel and personnel from neighboring fire departments and outside agencies — that was charged with investigating contributing factors to Flynn’s death, including conducting “a transparent, thorough, honest, and factual safety review” of the incident.

The 12-member board was established Aug. 2, 2018, and, 11 months later, it released its report Monday afternoon.

In a statement, Howard Fire Chief Christine Uhlhorn said that the department has “implemented many changes” since Flynn’s death to improve the safety of the department’s firefighters and paramedics.

Changes include increased staffing levels on front-line engines, continuing practical training programs, the establishment of radio and self-contained breathing apparatus committees.

“We continue to mourn the loss of Nate, and our priority is to support his family as well as our fire department family,” Uhlhorn said.

Flynn, a 13-year veteran of the fire department, was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

For the report, the board interviewed 57 Howard fire personnel “with direct knowledge” of the house fire last July at 7005 Woodscape Dr. The interviews were informal and voluntary, according to the report.

The board also utilized the fire department’s record management system data, radio transmissions, network data log and more for the report.

Findings from the nearly 800-page report include the fire department needing to establish “a clear command philosophy” to assist in addressing situations. There are two incident commands that draw from military terminology outlined in the report: Befehlstaktik, which is an order-based philosophy, and Auftragstaktik, which is mission-based.

The board found there was a “consistent lack of crew accountability” during the Clarksville fire. The department needs to ensure that all on-ground fire crews are operating within the command structure.

The fire department is also being charged with restructuring its training program, from the report’s findings. The program needs to “shift its focus away from prioritizing classroom or online courses,” and instead encourage hands-on experience training.

Enhancing fire-ground communication is another recommendation from the board. The report emphasized establishing closed-loop radio communication, where a message was initiated by the sender, it is then received and acknowledged by the intended receiver and then the sender follows up making sure the message was received and appropriately interpreted.

The board also “strongly recommends” that an independent organizational review of the fire department is completed.

County Executive Calvin Ball said the fire department has made progress in meeting staffing needs, and “I know we can build upon this progress and use the Internal Safety Review Board report to help prevent future tragedy and promote safety for all.”

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“We will never forget the heroism and sacrifice of Lt. Nathan Flynn. We will continue to honor his legacy by dedicating ourselves to the safety of our firefighters, all first responders, and our entire community,” Ball said in a statement.

Flynn is survived by his wife, Celeste, and their five children.

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