Hundreds Honor Fire Marshal Who Died Helping FBI Agent on I-270

During funeral, Gov. Larry Hogan says Sander Cohen will leave legacy of service, self-sacrifice


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Police and fire personnel stand at attention outside B'nai Israel Congregation on Thursday before the funeral for Sander Cohen.

BETHANY RODGERS

This story was updated at 7 p.m. Dec. 14.

Friends and colleagues of Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander Cohen, who died while helping an off-duty FBI agent at a crash in Rockville, remembered him Thursday for his fun-loving spirit and his bravery. 

Hundreds of people, including representatives from police and fire agencies around the state, streamed into B’nai Israel Congregation near Rockville to attend Cohen’s funeral.

“Sander lived and died because he cared about people and would do anything for them,” said Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, Cohen’s friend.

Cohen pulled over on Interstate 270 on Dec. 8 to assist Carlos Wolff, an FBI special agent whose car hit a Jersey barrier and bounced into the fast lane. Cohen, who also was off-duty at the time, alerted authorities, and the two men stood on the shoulder to wait for help to arrive.

A driver swerved onto the highway shoulder to avoid the stopped vehicles and struck Cohen and Wolff. Both men were killed in the crash. Wolff’s funeral also took place Thursday morning, but his family asked that it remain private.

Sander Cohen's family arrives at his funeral on Thursday, led by a police motorcycle procession. Credit: Bethany Rodgers.

Speakers at Cohen’s funeral called his actions on Friday heroic.

Gov. Larry Hogan said that although Cohen, 33, died at a young age, “his mark on this life will be lasting.”

Cohen won a unit citation for participating in a multi-agency investigation of a “bottle bombing” explosion at a Largo movie theater in 2014. He “answered the call” to work during the rioting in Baltimore in 2015, Hogan said. And he also responded last year to the Flower Branch Apartments explosion that killed seven people in Silver Spring, Hogan said.   

The state fire marshal’s office will remember Cohen’s legacy of service and self-sacrifice, Hogan said.

Hogan said he once met Cohen, sharing a beer and snapping a photo with him in Ocean City. The brief encounter didn’t give Hogan the opportunity to get to know Cohen deeply. But over the past few days, Hogan said, he’s learned a lot about the volunteer firefighter.

“I know that he loved his parents and his family and friends and that he loved his dog,” the governor said.

Cohen’s friends from the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department shared stories about his loyalty, zest for life and ability to make them break into laughter.

One of them said Cohen would often get passionately involved in a new hobby – remote controlled helicopters, for instance – only to lose interest after a short time. It wasn’t long before he’d fallen in love with a different activity, the friend said.

Another fellow firefighter said Cohen was known for his “antics.” He remembered that Cohen once showed up to the fire station carrying a water balloon launcher and recruited his friends to help him lob the balloons from the roof of the building. One of the water-filled balloons went a little off-course, attracting the attention of a woman at a bank ATM across the street. The woman walked over and demanded to speak with the chief.

The woman said, “I think a water balloon came from the firehouse.”

The chief replied, “Ma’am. I know the water balloon came from the firehouse.”

Cohen, who lived in Germantown, was a nine-year veteran of the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office and was regional commander for the Northeast Regional Office, speakers at the funeral said. He served 14 years with the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.

State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said Cohen was on course to become a leader and mentor in the agency.

“I will miss his smile and the, ‘Hi, boss, how’s it going?’ every time he came to my door,” Geraci said, his voice breaking.

Sander Cohen. Via Pete Piringer.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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