Fallen Heroes of Maryland deserve our respect and attention [Editorial]

Sometimes, it's easy to pay no attention. Life goes smoothly when you disregard that which is heartbreaking. Even when sacrifices are made on your behalf, no need to share in someone else's pain.

But there are times when we are asked, for a little while, to stop and consider how we benefit from the service of people who put a lot on the line, including, occasionally, their lives.

The 28th annual Fallen Heroes Day in Maryland was May 3. It's a day set aside to honor those in the public safety community — police, firefighters, corrections officers and emergency responders — who have died in the line of duty. All were designated last year as line-of-duty deaths, although two of the deaths happened in 2010 and 2011.

In a ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, hundreds gathered to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by seven Marylanders, including five police officers, one correctional officer and one firefighter. Six were men and one was a woman.

These losses now begin to recede into history — the most recent was last September.

Sadly, this kind of history cannot be permanently relegated to the past. Peril is a constant and as long as there are men and women who rush in the direction of that peril, the risk of death will continue.

We were reminded of this as recently as May 2, when a firefighter with the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company died of injuries received several days earlier while fighting a fire that killed another man.

Gene Kirchner, 25, was one of the first firefighters on the scene of the house fire on Hanover Road on April 24. He went inside to try to save a trapped man. He was later found unconscious on the second floor of the house. Kirchner had joined the fire company as a junior firefighter at age 14 and his twin brother and sister also serve as volunteers with the company.

On the day after Kirchner's death, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz weighed the significance of the young man's sacrifice.

"Sometimes we take for granted the willingness of our first responders to lay down their lives for us," he said in a statement. "Today, we're reminded just how much we owe them."

The dead deserve commemoration. The mourners deserve our condolences. And the living who still rush into peril deserve our respect and, once in a while, our complete attention.

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