ROCKVILLE, Md (ABC7) — Tissues and seats were in short supply at the B’nai Israel Synagogue for the funeral of Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Sander Cohen.
The following are notes from ABC7 Montgomery County Reporter Kevin Lewis, who attended Thursday's hour-long funeral.
Cohen was born in Montgomery County. He graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Bethesda and earned an associate's degree at Montgomery College. He joined the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department at the age of 16 and had worked full time for Maryland's Office of the State Fire Marshal for the last eight years.
Cohen was committed to his craft. Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci spoke about Cohen's integral role in determining who was responsible for setting off chemical "bottle bomb" at the Magic Johnson Movie Theater in Largo in 2014. Cohen also offered his expertise during the 2015 Baltimore Riots and 2016 Silver Spring Apartment Explosion. Geraci went on to explain how Cohen occasionally texted him to go out for drinks or dinner. Geraci joked how the texts often came after he'd already gotten into bed.
“He possessed the qualities to be a leader and to take care of his people, and that is so important to me, as my agency knows," Geraci said before later breaking into tears.
Cohen was a gifted prankster. Seven of his closest firehouse buddies shared around a dozen of Cohen's greatest hits. There was that time Cohen brought a professional water balloon launcher to the firehouse. One unintended victim... a woman withdrawing money from an ATM machine across the street. In another instance, Cohen hid 18 alarm clocks in the firehouse bunkroom - set to go off incrementally between midnight and 4 a.m. And who could forget the day Cohen accidentally checked into the wrong Ocean City rental home. The party was in full-swing when the rightful owners showed up. Buzzkill.
“Every Sander story shares one common expression that we’ll hold on to forever, and that’s laughter, Sander always made us laugh," one of Cohen's closest friends said at the lectern.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) had a "chance encounter" with Cohen while in Ocean City last year. Hogan didn't appear to vividly recall the brief interaction, but it certainly left a lasting impression on Cohen who made sure to tell his parents and friends.
“This was a man who dedicated his life to public service, and who never hesitated to offer a helping hand right up until his last breath on this earth," Hogan remarked.
Cohen may not have outwardly appeared to be a devout member of the Jewish faith, but his rabbi made clear how much religion mattered to him. Cohen regularly attended casual weekly meetings at his rabbi's home, a six-pack of beer always in hand.
“There is nothing that I would ever want more than to be spoken about in the way all of Sander’s friends have been speaking about him," stated Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum of Aish HaTorah of Greater Washington.
Cohen's father, Neil, is a well-respected dentist with offices in Chevy Chase. His mother, Arlene, works as the dental office manager. Both were seated in the front row. Neither spoke during the service.
The Maryland State Police have not stated what caused 28-year-old Roberto Garza Palacios of Germantown to hit and kill both Cohen and FBI agent Carlos Wolff along I-270 last Friday. However, there is an intense desire for concrete answers.