York City firefighters never left their fallen brothers' side

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
  • To donate to the families of the firefighters killed and injured, go to www.gofundme.com/york-fire-fighters-support-fund.

York City Firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zachary Anthony weren't alone when part of a building collapsed and mortally wounded them, and they weren't alone afterward either.

"From the time this happened, someone (from the fire department) has been with them," York City Fire/Rescue Chief David Michaels said about 4 p.m. Friday, March 23.

Firefighters rushed to York Hospital, where Flanscha, 50, and Anthony, 29, were taken by ambulance from the scene of the old Weaver Piano & Organ Co. building at 127 N. Broad St. on Thursday, March 22. The building burned down the day before.

Fallen firefighters mourned at Kuhner Associates Funeral Inc York City, Friday, March 23, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After the firefighters were pronounced dead, colleagues and other first responders lined both sides of a hospital walkway and saluted as the men's bodies were wheeled out.

Many in the group then escorted their fallen brothers to Kuhner Associates funeral home on South George Street in the city, the lights of their emergency vehicles illuminating the solemn procession in red, white and blue.

There, throughout the night, at least one firefighter stood watch over Flanscha and Anthony, York City Fire and Rescue Chief David Michaels said.

Second escort: On Friday morning, the men's bodies were taken to Allentown's Lehigh Valley Hospital for autopsy. They were accompanied by a long line of firetrucks and other emergency vehicles.

The procession then waited outside the hospital while the autopsies were performed, Michaels said.

As they waited, firefighters from the Lehigh Valley area and beyond came to pay their respects and to support the grieving, according to the chief.

Some of them took York-area responders to their stations, where they were fed and given a chance to rest, Michaels said.

It's the first time since 1971 that York City firefighters have had to fulfill the tradition of ensuring that a comrade isn't alone, even in death.

York City Firefighter Ivan Flanscha

Flanscha and Anthony were the 12th and 13th York City firefighters killed in the line of duty, according to retired Deputy Chief Greg Halpin, who is the department's historian, and the 32nd and 33rd York City firefighter or ambulance crew member to die in the line of duty.

Firefighters say they will now struggle with survivor's guilt and that the two injured firefighters who survived — Assistant Chief Greg Altland and Firefighter Erik Swanson — will be especially vulnerable to it.

Much-needed support: Michaels said the connection firefighters share has led colleagues from across the country to reach out. And members of the community have reached out as well, dropping off food and flowers — some stopping into the city's fire stations simply to offer condolences.

He said retired York City firefighters, some off the job for a quarter century, flocked to city stations in the minutes and hours after news broke about the partial building collapse with entrapment. That extended family was together when they learned of the deaths.

York City Firefighter Zachary Anthony

Firefighters from around York County manned York City's fire stations Friday so Flanscha's and Anthony's co-workers were able to escort their bodies to Allentown, according to Michaels. Also offering help were fire departments from Lancaster, Harrisburg, Chambersburg and other southcentral Pennsylvania communities, he said. 

"We cannot say enough, (give) thanks enough, for all we've received. ... It means a lot," Michaels said at a news conference Friday. "It's the support that's going to get us through this."

Dedicated: Michaels said Flanscha and Anthony were very different people, but both were dedicated to the fire service.

"Ivan Flanscha (was) a very laid-back guy. Never got rattled, never got excited," the chief said. "Whether he was going to a structure fire or a trash fire, (he was) always very, very calm."

Flanscha's survivors include three daughters, a stepdaughter, a stepson and his wife, according to the chief.

Flanscha was named York City Firefighter of the Year for 2004 and received commendations for other heroic actions, including saving a burn victim from a kitchen fire. He was closing in on 20 years on the job.

Passionate about work: York County resident and Harrisburg Firefighter Brian Bastinelli recalled seeing Flanscha at a fire on Susquehanna Street in York City a few years ago.

"Ivan had squarely kicked this fire's a— and came (out) of the building, and his gear told the story of what had just happened," Bastinelli said. Flanscha was covered in soot, his gear compromised by the heat of the blaze.

"He wasn't allowed to go back in because of the damage to his gear," Bastinelli recalled. "He was so mad. He just wanted to get back at it."

York City Firefighter Ivan Flanscha walks out of a burning home on Susquehanna Street, covered in soot, his gear damaged by the heat of the blaze.

Flanscha tried a few times to work his way back inside, but eventually gave up and battled the blaze from outside, his friend said.

"He just wanted to work," Bastinelli said. "That's the kind of brother you want at your fires."

Steve Buffington, retired York City fire chief and current codes officer for the city, said Flanscha was vested in the community, including redeveloping blighted city properties.

"He did everything that was expected of him and more," Buffington said. "You always knew you could count on him to be there and stay there with you."

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Starting out: Anthony, not yet 30 and originally from the Poconos, had spent more than seven years as a city firefighter, according to Michaels, and he and his girlfriend had made plans for their future.

"He was a family guy … a young guy ready to get his life started with marriage and children," Michaels said.

York City Firefighter Zach Anthony helps four-year-old Zyera Preston, of York City, down from Engine 99-6 while letting her explore the fire truck during the South Duke Street Block Party in York City, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

People liked to be around Anthony, according to the chief.

"Zach was our jokester," he recalled. "Everything he said was funny."

A liaison from the fire department has been assigned to each of the grieving families, according to Michaels, to meet any need the survivors have, whether big or small.

He said Flanscha's and Anthony's families are "holding up the best they can."

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

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct information about how many York City firefighters and ambulance crew members have died in the line of duty.