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Fire Department Retirements Leave Void in Essex

The recent retirement of EMS Lt. Samuel P. Snyder of Middle River highlights the state of transition of the Baltimore County Fire Department.

Reitred Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Harold Cohen said he knew he had nothing to worry about in the field if EMS Lt. Samuel P. Snyder was on the call.

Snyder, 56, of Middle River, spent his entire 31-year career with the Baltimore County Fire Department on the east side before retiring on Dec. 30, 2011 at the Middle River Station. About 150 people gathered at Parkville Gardens Saturday to congratulate Snyder on his retirement and thank him for his years of service.

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During his career, Snyder cared for thousands of patients and was on some of the most tragic calls in Essex-Middle River over the last three decades, including the and the drowning of three young children the following year after their mother, who had been drinking, accidently drove into the Genstar quarry in White Marsh.

"Throughout my career I knew if Sam was there I wouldn’t have anything to worry about and the county wouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Cohen said. “Many of the paramedics who came up under him are a little better or a lot better because of Sam."

Snyder's retirement offers a glimpse into the state of transition facing the Baltimore County Fire Department.

Approximately in recent months.

The and many of those below them left, in part, because frozen wages over the next three years provided little incentive to remain.

This is something all fire departments and police departments periodically encounter. Baltimore County has had several EMT classes in recent years and is preparing to bring in another firefighter class this year to fill the void.

In time, new paramedics, firefighters and EMTs will fill the role left by recent retirees like Snyder, , and others.

While you can replace the lost personnel on the ambulances and in the fire trucks, it takes time to replace the institutional knowledge that can only come with years of community service.

There is no book or training exercise that can fully prepare a firefighter, paramedic or EMT of how to react in any given situation. There is also no lesson that can teach them how to deal with people in situations ranging from helping a child who was in a car accident to telling someone their loved one has died.

Much like a police officer walking a beat, fire department members build relationships with the residents in their communities and learn how to best relate to them and understand their problems.

To those who worked with him, Snyder provided all of those lessons through his experience.

Colleagues said his legacy goes far beyond being at the scene of high-profile incidents. Snyder served as a mentor for many young paramedics, helped launch a bike team and showed others in the department the importance of displaying compassion to those who need their assistance.

“He had a passion for what he did and will be remembered for doing that,” Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Mike Robinson said. “No one person in the fire department had more impact on my career than the initial kindness and perseverance and just spending time with me to get me on my path in the fire department.

“Most of all thank you for the legacy you leave and with all of us. Those are hard shoes to fill and it will be a long time before another person like him comes around.”

Snyder said he leaves the fire department with the same passion he had three decades earlier and believes over time others will fill his shoes much like he did at the start of his career.

But for that to happen, Snyder said, it is important for those in charge to remember they don’t know everything and to never stop learning on the job.

“What an incredible ride this has been,” Snyder said. “I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being a teacher or mentor, but I’ve learned more from the paramedics and officers I worked with than I ever imparted on them. It’s just a matter of listening.

"To today’s officers, I ask you to listen to your troops; it’s the best advice I can give you.”

What does the recent retirements in the Baltimore County Fire Department mean to your community? Tell us in the comments section below.

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