York City firefighters honored for bravery, compassion, sacrifice

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

After 19 years on the job, York City Firefighter Tony Caruso said he still gets butterflies in his stomach every time he hears the fire bell sound.

"It's just an amazing job to go to every day," he said.

Caruso, 46, is the York City Department of Fire/Rescue Services' firefighter of the year for 2017. Although he was announced as the winner at a department banquet in April, he was officially honored on Thursday, Aug. 16, at the fire department's annual awards ceremony.

Brooke Hoffman, left, and Casey Flanscha are escorted by York City Fire Deputy Chief Chad Deardorff after a Retiring of the Badges ceremony for the women's husbands during the York City Fire Department's awards ceremony at York City Hall Thursday, August 16, 2018. Ivan Flanscha and Zach Anthony lost their lives fighting a fire at the former Weaver Organ and Piano building in March. Painted portraits of the firefighters by artist Carol Oldenburg of OMG Studios in York, right, were on display during the event. Bill Kalina photo

York City Fire Chief David Michaels said Caruso is still an enthusiastic firefighter with "a strong sense of brotherhood and compassion."

Caruso told The York Dispatch he enjoys helping people and making a difference. Born and raised in York City, he graduated from York Catholic High School in 1990 and was hired as a York City firefighter in 1999.

He described his co-workers as people who love what they do and who come from all walks of life.

Caruso said he couldn't do his job without the support of his wife, Marci Caruso, and his family.

"I've leaned on them a lot," he said.

Firefighter of the Year Tony Caruso and his wife Marci embrace after the York City Fire Department's awards ceremony at York City Hall Thursday, August 16, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Spouses' support essential: To that end, during Thursday's ceremony the chief asked for the spouses of firefighters to come forward to be given special recognition.

"We could not get through this without (them)," Michaels said of firefighters' spouses and families.

He said that after Firefighters Ivan Flanscha, 50, and Zach Anthony, 29, were killed March 22, 2018 when the burned-out Weaver Piano & Organ building at 127 N. Broad St. collapsed, the wives of firefighters went to York Hospital to offer comfort and support.

They also organized dinners, wrote thank-you notes, held fundraisers and assisted with funeral preparation, the chief said.

"It's been impossible to thank all the people who have helped us," an emotional Michaels told the crowd, but he added that the department intends to keep thanking people until they express gratitude to everyone who reached out to the department in the wake of the deaths.

More:ATF: No known cause of fire that killed 2 York City firefighters

Michaels also asked retired city firefighters to come forward to be recognized for their response after Flanscha and Anthony were killed.

"Our retired firefighters are still connected to this department," he said.

Lifelong connection: The chief noted that after the building collapse, word of the tragedy traveled quickly.

Without being called or asked, retired firefighters and their families responded. Some went to the scene "and even took roles in the command structure," Michaels said.

Others went to city fire stations to offer support and comfort, and they also helped at the firefighters' funerals, according to the chief.

"They remain dedicated to York City and its fire department ... even in retirement," he said.

Two other firefighters, Assistant Chief Greg Altland and Firefighter Erik Swanson, also fell four stories when the Weaver building collapsed and also were buried in rubble.

Both men survived, and on Thursday they were presented with wound-bar pins for their uniforms and chief's commendations.

Michaels said the rescue effort to find all four firefighters "was quite possibly the most complex rescue in our department's history" and saved the lives of Altland and Swanson with "rescue tools, sheer will and brute force."

Retired firefighter Tim Bair is greeted by, from left, York City Fire Chief Dave Michaels, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich and York City Deputy Fire Chief Chad Deardorff during a recognition of retired firefighters at the York City Fire Department's awards ceremony at York City Hall on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Weaver fire recognition: The fire department on Thursday permanently retired Flanscha's and Anthony's badge numbers, Nos. 46 and 47, respectively.

The badges are each housed in a wooden box shaped like York City's fire-alarm boxes.

They were made by York City Firefighter Jeff Miller and will be kept with the badges of other firefighters killed in the line of duty, Michaels said.

More:York City firefighters never left their fallen brothers' side

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More:ATF: No known cause of fire that killed 2 York City firefighters

The firefighters who undertook that dangerous rescue effort were honored Thursday with chief's commendations. They are: Deputy Chief Chad Deardorff, Assistant Chief Pat Rose, Assistant Chief Gil Kimes, Capt. Adam Smith, Capt. Bill Sleeger and firefighters Marc Ott, Shawn Firestone, Bill Crenshaw, Darryl Maxfield, Brandon Sawyer, Don Newcomer, Zach Calvert, Wade Fleming, Keith Ramsay, Lawrence Pacl, Brandon Hyder, Michael Zaler and Cliff Frederick.

The fire department also honored a number of organizations with letters of recognition for their efforts after the Weaver building collapse. They are: York County 911, York Area United Fire and Rescue, the York County Advanced Technical Rescue team, York City Police, White Rose Ambulance, Grantley Ambulance, York Regional EMS and West York Ambulance.

A number of civilians were recognized Thursday as well, including York City artist Carol Oldenburg, who painted portraits of Flanscha and Anthony for the city.

Dorothy Deacon award: Judy Rohrbaugh was presented the 2018 Dorothy Deacon Distinguished Citizen of the Year award.

Born and raised in York City, Rohrbaugh spent 33 years with the York City School District and volunteered with the York YMCA, teaching swimming and lifesaving, Michaels said.

She also volunteers with Jacobus Ambulance and the American Red Cross' Greater Pennsylvania region, helping to open and run several local shelters, the chief said.

Painted portraits of fallen firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zach Anthony by artist Carol Oldenburg of OMG Studios in York were on display during the York City Fire Department's awards ceremony at York City Hall Thursday, August 16, 2018. The two lost their lives fighting a fire at the former Weaver Organ and Piano building in March. Oldenburg was recognized during the ceremony. Bill Kalina photo

The fire department established the Deacon award in 2017 to honor those who exhibit the spirit of service that Dorothy Deacon did, according to Michaels.

Deacon, 91, lived on the fifth floor of the Delphia House, and on Aug. 12, 2017, she realized her neighbor had a grease fire on the stove. She grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the flames before firefighters arrived, Michaels said.

She taught children to swim through the York Jewish Community Center and local Red Cross and also volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children, he said.

"She had class and integrity and nothing could stop her," he told the crowd. Deacon died unexpectedly less than a month after the fire, he said, and she was honored by the York City Department of Fire/Rescue last year.

A group of Shadowfax workers were honored Thursday for helping to save the life of a choking victim on Dec. 12, 2017. They are: Kara Lefever, Sherry Bare, Melanie Watts, Sara Devore, Angi Davis, Heather Lighty and Sakaia Williams.

Old and new: Also at Thursday's awards ceremony, the department honored five firefighters who recently retired. They are: Darryl King, Kraig Spangler, Joe Portner, Gary Landis and Tim Bair.

Michaels also introduced eight new York City firefighters — Joshua Landis, Steven Whiteman, Tyler Landis, Gregory Myers, Derik Rhodes, Adam Ramsey, Paul Moore and Mark Pretz.

Tyler Landis, 23, of Dover, is the nephew of newly retired Firefighter Gary Landis, the nephew of former York City Fire Chief Tom Landis and the grandson of the elder Gary Landis, who also served as a firefighter.

York City Firefighter Tyler Landis talks about his family's involvement in firefighting after the York City Fire Department's awards ceremony at York City Hall Thursday, August 16, 2018. He was recently sworn-in to the department. Bill Kalina photo

Tyler said he always knew he wanted to be a firefighter or a police officer because he wanted to help others.

"They have a deep history in this department that goes back to the late 1800s for sure," Michaels said of the Landis family. "Firefighting does get in a family's blood. Kids grow up around it and hear about it. (Tyler) heard a lot of stories."

Coincidentally, Michaels lived two or three doors away from Chad and Angel Landis when their son Tyler was born, the chief said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.