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Former Baltimore County Fire Chief Paul H. Reincke, who headed the department twice, dies

During his tenure as fire chief, Paul H. Reincke appointed Baltimore County's first paid female firefighter.
During his tenure as fire chief, Paul H. Reincke appointed Baltimore County's first paid female firefighter. (The Baltimore Sun Media Group / Baltimore Sun)

Former Baltimore County Fire Chief Paul H. Reincke who headed the department during an innovative period and was a member of a German cultural organization, died of undetermined causes Sept. 22 at Mercy Medical Center. The longtime Catonsville resident was 91.

“We are waiting for the results of an autopsy as to the cause of death,” said his daughter, Susan R. Cohen, of Catonsville.

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“What made him a special firefighter was that as a person he was able to be an example of a professional firefighter and a compassionate leader,” said his son-in-law, Harold Cohen, of Catonsville, who retired from the Baltimore County Fire Department where he had been deputy chief.

“He was able to balance the mission and people and he was very effective at it,” Cohen said. “He was thorough and fair and knew when he had to be tough, but everything he did, he did with compassion.”

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Paul Hugo Reincke, son of Paul Fritz Reincke, a German immigrant and contractor, and his wife, Elizabeth Yazkel Reincke, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Woodlawn.

He was a 1946 graduate of Catonsville High School and worked in his father’s business before enlisting in 1948 in the Navy where he served as a cook aboard the destroyer USS Currier that was stationed in Hawaii. He was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 1954.

A lifelong member of the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Co., Chief Reincke was appointed to the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1952 and during the 1960s and 1970s rose through the ranks.

Paul H. Reincke was first appointed chief of the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1975.
Paul H. Reincke was first appointed chief of the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1975. (The Baltimore Sun Media Group / Baltimore Sun)

In 1968, he represented the department on a committee with R Adams Cowley that established the nation’s first trauma center at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center, and helped procure a military helicopter to transport the severely injured to the trauma center. In 1969, the first medevac transport was provided by the Maryland State Police.

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In 1975, he was appointed department chief by Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, who died last week, following the retirement of Chief J. Austin Dietz. At the time of his appointment Chief Reincke was head of the department’s fire prevention bureau.

At the time, Mr. Venetoulis cited Chief Reincke’s “infectious enthusiasm and zeal for finding new and effective ways of doing things.”

In addition to addressing department morale, the new chief told The Evening Sun in an interview that expanding the role of women in the department was important and he made it a priority.

“I believe that the fire service in general has many areas where women can be used effectively. We’re going to investigate that,” he told the newspaper.

During his tenure as chief, the Baltimore County 911 system was launched and he appointed the first paid female firefighter in Baltimore County. He also raised the standard of patient care by adopting the full national paramedic program.

His daughter recalled The Sun featuring her father wearing his gear over a pair of shorts.

“It was a five-alarm fire and he was at home wearing Bermuda shorts. He always kept his turnout gear in the car and when the call came he put it on,” Ms. Cohen said. “And there he was with bare legs and knees.”

He retired in 1990, and six years later, became the only chief in the history of the department to be appointed a second time by then-Baltimore County Executive C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger.

Chief Reincke explained his role when he retired a year later, that his mission was to “return calm to the department by reducing factionalism and to help find a permanent chief,” The Sun reported.

He added: “I’m going back to doing what I was happily doing for 5 1/2 years.”

In 1954, he married the former Jean Ann Kirwin, and he and his wife were the first to coach a 9-10 team in Catonsville when Baltimore County Parks and Recreation established a softball league in the 1960s for girls.

Proud of his German heritage, the couple were active members of the Edelweiss Club and for years were volunteers at the annual Baltimore Oktoberfest Festival. They also were avid walkers and were members of the local Volksmarch Association and for many years were daily walkers with a group of friends at Fort McHenry.

A celebration-of-life gathering will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Hall, 5200 Southwestern Blvd in Halethorpe.

In addition to his wife of 67 years and his daughter, Chief Reincke is survived by three grandchildren. He was predeceased by an infant daughter, Carol Ann Reincke.

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