Howard County firefighter dies after falling through floor of Clarksville house during seven-alarm blaze

A Howard County firefighter died early Monday after he fell through the floor of a burning house in Clarksville, authorities said.

Firefighter Nathan Flynn was trapped for 22 minutes in the basement of the house on Woodscape Drive, authorities said. The 34-year-old Havre de Grace man, a husband and father, is the first member of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services to be killed in the line of duty.

Flynn, a 13-year veteran of the department, was also a volunteer firefighter in Harford County.

“He was a heck of a firefighter,” Howard County Deputy Fire Chief William Anuszewski said with tears in his eyes. “He loved the fire service. He loved his family.”

Firefighters were dispatched to the two-story, single-family home at 7005 Woodscape Drive in the Thistledown development shortly before 2 a.m. on a report of smoke following a possible lightning strike, Howard County fire spokesman Brad Tanner said. They arrived to find smoke showing, and entered the house.

Flynn fell through the first floor at about 2:20 a.m., Tanner said. A rapid intervention team was deployed immediately.

They removed Flynn at 2:42 a.m., Tanner said. He was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where he died.

“We grieve together as a community, and we are reminded of the risks and dangers faced by all of our first responders every day,” Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said outside the hospital.

Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the Maryland and U.S. flags lowered to half staff. He described Flynn as a “hero” who “bravely ran toward danger to save others’ lives.”

The fire grew to seven alarms, Tanner said. Crews from Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties assisted. Three people inside the house were safely removed.

Flynn is survived by “several” small children, said Richard L. Ruehl, president of the county firefighters union. Mourners who gathered at Flynn’s listed residence Monday afternoon declined to comment.

“This is the first time, as the county executive noted, that we’ve ever had to deal with this in Howard County, and honestly we don’t know what to do right now,” Ruehl said. He praised the aid offered by other agencies and said he had been receiving messages from firefighters unions around the country.

The Howard County fire department is investigating with assistance from the State Fire Marshal and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

More than 100 firefighters and medics responded to the home throughout the morning. The fire rekindled at about 8:30 a.m., and billows of brown smoke rushed out of holes in the roof. It was extinguished by noon, 10 hours after it was reported.

The home is owned by Janet Siddiqui, who lost this year’s Democratic primary race for Howard County Council, and her husband, Nayab Siddiqui. Tanner said the residents are displaced and the house will be posted as unsafe.

The Siddiquis donated $10,000 to an online fundraiser for Flynn’s wife and children, Janet Siddiqui confirmed in a text message.

“We are devastated by the loss of firefighter Nathan Flynn,” the couple said in a statement posted on Facebook. “We grieve alongside the Howard County community and our hearts go out to his family and comrades.

“Structures can be rebuilt, but the loss of a loved one is irreplaceable,” the couple said. “We are profoundly grateful and thank the fire department for their bravery and dedication today.”

Steven James, who has lived near the Thistledown development for 33 years, said he heard the rip of a lightning strike at about 2 a.m.

“I saw a flash and heard the hit,” he said. “It was so loud. It hit and it echoed.”

Flynn was a member of Howard County’s Rivers Park station in Columbia, officials said.

He also volunteered at the Chapel Road station of the Susquehanna Hose Co. in Havre de Grace, according to Scott Hurst, that company’s chief. Flynn served on the hose company’s swiftwater rescue team and Harford County’s technical rescue team.

“He was very well-respected, very well-trained, very well-disciplined,” Hurst said. “And a great guy to hang out with.”

When Hurst heard of Flynn’s death, he thought of the man’s wife and children, and then about the dangers of the job.

“It really hits home about getting through your career as a firefighter without losing your life,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that all morning, as has everybody else.”

“He made the ultimate sacrifice and we will do whatever we can to honor him,” Hurst said.

The Chapel Road station was draped in black bunting and the company flag was lowered to half-staff on Monday.

Steve Hinch, crew chief of the Harford County Technical Rescue Team, said Flynn was the kind of person firefighters want with them when they are responding to a call.

Hinch took a class with Flynn at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

“You want him because he’s full of energy,” he said. “He’s a young guy who wanted to learn.”

As a member of the rescue team, Flynn responded to at least several emergencies, Hinch said, including two at Rocks State Park. He said the two would meet weekly to go over differences between pieces of equipment.

“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.”

His loss “truly is hard,” Hinch said. “It hurts. You see a young guy, in his prime, willing to take the training to do the different skills, and now he’s gone.”

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, himself a longtime volunteer firefighter, ordered the county flag lowered to half-staff.

“Havre de Grace is a pretty tight-knit community. It’s a loss for the volunteer system in the county,” he said. “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 spoke of the death in May of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio, who was struck by a car while responding to a report of a burglary in Perry Hall. Four Baltimore youths have been charged with first-degree murder in her death. She 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,” Glassman said. “I think we feel the loss here almost as much as the county where they worked.”

William T. Martin, the mayor of Havre de Grace, announced that the lights in the city’s downtown area will be lit red for one week to honor Flynn.

“The City was overcome with grief this morning as we learned of the passing of one of our own,” 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.”

The fundraiser for Flynn’s wife and children on the GoFundMe website, set up by the union, surpassed its $50,000 goal on Tuesday morning.

Lightning set the roof of another Clarksville house on fire this month. That blaze, in the 5200 block of Sweet Meadow Lane on July 4, was quickly brought under control. The residents were not home. Three firefighters suffered heat exhaustion and were evaluated as a precautionary measure.

Beginning in 2011, Howard County required sprinklers in all new, detached homes for which builders apply for permits. Tanner said it was not clear if there were sprinklers inside the Woodscape Drive home, which was built in 1990.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Janet Siddiqui was running for Howard County Council. She lost the primary race.
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