The 2015 Utah IAAI Seminar in Wendover, Nevada:
SAVE the DATES
February 22-25, 2015
The sudden loss of Mark G. Falkenhan shook the Baltimore County fire service at its core. His death resonates with every career and volunteer member, on each and every call. It reminds us that life is precious and fragile, and that this job, despite our best efforts in safe work practices, is still dangerous and requires risk assessment with every response and every decision made.
As I read the report submitted by our Line of Duty Death investigation team, I was proud of their work product, yet unsettled by the reality that there was not a major cause or failure that resulted in his death. The tradition of the fire service is to find the problem and either fix it or prevent it in the future. This rule cannot be applied in this case since the outcome was the result of minor issues that alone, are recoverable…but stacked up, were catastrophic. The report leads me to conclude that while there is always room for improvement, there was no single cause, no single reason for this death. This was by no means a routine incident--but let us not forget that here is a clear cut case of engaging in high risk but achieving high reward. His death overshadowed the fact that three people were rescued by the heroic efforts of the crews …and that is exactly what Mark was doing. He knew people were trapped, he knew the fire was still burning, yet he entered the building relying on his training, equipment, and courage, to join the effort.
Assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Fire Research Laboratory (FRL) was requested for a fire at 30 Dowling Circle by the Baltimore County Fire Investigation Division (FID) through the ATF Baltimore Field Division on the night of January 19, 2011. ATF Fire Protection Engineers were asked to utilize engineering analysis methods, including computer fire modeling, to assist with determining the route of fire spread and the events that led to the firefighter MAYDAY and subsequent Line of Duty Death.
Until the 1992 publication and eventual acceptance of NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations by the National Fire Protection Association, fire pattern analysis was a widely accepted method of determining the presence of an ignitable liquid. There were specific burn patterns that fire investigators believed could only be created in the presence of an ignitable liquid; therefore, if any of these suspected fire patterns were found at a fire scene, there must have been an ignitable liquid present to have caused them. Furthermore, if a fire was perceived to have burned hotter than normal, the abnormal heat was often attributed to the presence of an ignitable liquid. Because the presence of an ignitable liquid in an unexpected location is such a strong indicator of an intentionally set fire, the presence of these fire patterns and the perception of abnormal heat were considered prima facia evidence of the crime of arson.