John H. Gochnauer, a retired career Baltimore County firefighter who established the department's audio visual section, which became nationally recognized for its use in training firefighters, died Sunday of cancer at his Lutherville home. He was 78.
"John was very, very devoted to the department. The Fire Department was his life," said retired Baltimore County Fire Chief Elwood H. "Woody" Banister.
The son of John H. Gochnauer Sr., chief claims clerk for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Camden Station, and Frieda Weber Gochnauer, a homemaker, John Herbert Gochnauer Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised in Lansdowne.
After graduating from Catonsville High School in 1956, he worked as a lineman for the old Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. before joining the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1960.
Mr. Gochnauer served with Truck 5 in Halethorpe before becoming an instructor at the fire academy.
"I worked with John at our academy in 1971, and he worked for me for nine years as an instructor. He was one of our best instructors in ladder company operations," said Mr. Banister, who retired in 1994.
"At the academy, everyone liked his style of teaching. He was well liked," said Lewis E. Woolf, who retired in 1988 with the rank of captain from the Baltimore County Fire Department.
"In the mid-1970s, he initiated our audio visual section and followed that through until he retired," said Mr. Banister.
"Whenever multi-alarm fires, explosions or serious accidents occur in Baltimore County, one firefighter rushes to the scene with a television camera instead of a hose. The firefighter, Capt. John H. Gochnauer of the county firefighting academy in Towson, is saving the department money by producing on-the-spot training aids with relatively inexpensive equipment," reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1977 article.
"Captain Gochnauer, like many other teachers in the state, has discovered the potential of videotape equipment — a hand-held camera only slightly larger than that used for home movies and a simple recording unit — is limited only by the imagination of the user," observed the newspaper.
It was Mr. Gochnauer's work that replaced professional films that were expensive to produce and sometimes did not feature firefighting methods used by Baltimore County firefighters.
Mr. Gochnauer's work earned him the moniker of "Captain Video," said Mr. Banister, who lives in Phoenix, Baltimore County.
"John responded to all multiple-alarm fires in the county and we used them in training later," he said.
"Trainees and working firefighters see their colleagues in action and see the county's equipment and procedures as they are used in a hometown setting," reported The Sun.
"He put the programs together and then would go across the country showing fire departments how our command system and firefighters worked. And we were recognized for having one of the smoothest operations in the country," said Mr. Banister.
"John always stayed on top of things and when the technology changed, he was right on top of it," he said.
One of his most challenging assignments was the fatal Amtrak wreck at Chase in 1987 that killed 16.
"He was in the air in a helicopter and on the ground," said his wife of 30 years, the former Dolores "Dee" Morgan.
Another one of his videos that showed firefighters extracting a man who was stuck in a deep trench earned him an appearance on "Oprah," said Mrs. Gochnauer. "It was great. She had us flown to Chicago."
After retiring in 1994, Mr. Gochnauer joined the National Disaster Medical System, where he worked in logistics. He had not retired at his death.
Mr. Gochnauer's work took him to disasters all over the country as well as being available and on site during the Republican and Democratic national political conventions.
"He was in Tarboro, N.C., when Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999 and was at Ground Zero after 9/11 in New York for three months where he was a FEMA logistics supervisor," his wife said. "He was in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina and was inside the Superdome where thousands of refugees had gone."
Mr. Gochnauer's post-Katrina work resulted in a three-month stay in New Orleans, his wife said.
Since 1992, he had been a volunteer firefighter with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. and had served two years as the company's president and held other offices.
"John was always just one of the boys," said Mr. Woolf, of Lutherville, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Co. "All you had to do was say 'John Gochnauer' around Baltimore County, and everyone knew him."
Mr. Gochnauer was also a volunteer firefighter with the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Co.
He was a member and had been public relations director for the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association and was also a member of the Air National Guard.
He enjoyed using a flight simulator on his home computer and caring for the couple's three Chihuahuas.
Funeral services for Mr. Gochnauer will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Marilyn Boecker of Harford County, Linda Emrick of Daytona Beach, Fla., and Janiceann Corrigan of Dade City, Fla.; a stepson, Patrick G. Covahey of White Hall; eight grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.