Two York City firefighters injured in building collapse file lawsuits

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Two York City firefighters badly hurt when they plummeted four stories as the burned-out Weaver Piano & Organ building collapsed in March have sued a local engineering firm.

Assistant Fire Chief Greg Altland and wife Lisa Altland, as well as Firefighter Erik Swanson and wife Donna Swanson, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, filed lawsuits in York County Court against Carney Engineering Group Inc. and its president, Josh Carney.

Each couple is represented by Harrisburg-area attorney Robert Claraval.

"Erik and Greg brought this lawsuit so that a jury from our community can enforce the safety rules that protect firefighters and first responders so they can protect all of us," Claraval wrote in an email.

Firefighters work on remaining hot spots in the smoldering reckage of the former Weaver Piano Co. building on North Broad Street in York City, Thursday, March 22, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Two firefighters — Ivan Flanscha and Zach Anthony — were killed in the March 22 collapse, which happened a day after a three-alarm blaze badly damaged the building.

Flanscha's wife, Casey Flanscha, and Anthony's fiancee, Allison Hoffman, separately filed suit against Carney and his engineering firm on May 24.

Greg Altland suffered a concussion, shoulder sprain and tear, hand injuries, kidney injury, a scalp laceration, cervical spine injury, lumbar spine injury, ankle injury and emotional and psychological injuries, according to his lawsuit.

Erik Swanson suffered right shoulder injuries, cervical spine injury, kidney injury, a bruised tailbone and psychological injuries, his lawsuit states.

A message left with Carney Engineering, at 115 S. Howard St. in York City, was not returned Wednesday. Neil Clain Jr., the attorney representing both Carney and his firm, could not immediately be reached for comment. Carney also couldn't be reached.

York City Assistant Fire Chief Greg Altland

The allegations: According to the lawsuits filed Tuesday, firefighters were evacuated from the old Weaver building while battling the blaze March 21 because of "the danger of building collapse and injury to those firefighters inside ..."

The next day, firefighters returned to the burned-out building to extinguish hot spots, but they remained outside the building, according to the suits.

Later that morning, employees with Carney Engineering arrived at the scene "in their role as structural engineers to advise the York Fire Department and to evaluate the structural stability of the Weaver Piano Building," the lawsuits state.

The engineering group examined the building by entering it, as well as by having a city bucket truck to lift them high enough to survey upper floors, according to the suits.

The lawsuits claim Carney Engineering had a duty to properly advise the city fire department about the structural stability of the building, the danger of a potential collapse in each portion of the building and whether it was safe for firefighters to go back inside.

York City firefighter Erik Swanson jokes with Lincoln Charter School fifth-grade teacher Sakeenah Sweeney after advancing to third base during the Community Kickball game at the school Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The contest was part of a week-long series of fundraisers to benefit the American Cancer Society. All players--parents, teachers, emergency responders and students--paid a $5 fee to play in the game which pitted the adults against the school's fifth graders. Bill Kalina photo

"After surveying the building, the Carney Defendants informed members of the York Fire Department that the structure of the building was sound and that the building was safe for entry by firefighters," the lawsuits state.

Based on that alleged determination, a crew of firefighters was sent inside to put out hot spots.

Building unsafe: But the building wasn't safe and wasn't structurally sound, according to the plaintiffs.

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"At the time of the survey conducted by the Carney Defendants, the Weaver Piano building was in danger of imminent collapse," the lawsuits state.

A portion of the fourth floor of the building collapsed about 3 p.m. March 22, causing Flanscha, Anthony, Altland and Swanson to plummet to the ground.

"Firefighter Swanson and Assistant Chief Altland were trapped in the rubble from the building collapse and had to be extricated from the rubble by their fellow firefighters," the lawsuits state.

Flanscha, 50, and Anthony, 29, were extricated as well and rushed to York Hospital, but they couldn't be saved, city officials have said.

"The care, skill and/or knowledge exercised by the Carney Defendants at the fire scene fell below and deviated from the professional standards in the engineering industry," the lawsuits state, and they go on to add:

"The injuries of Assistant Chief Altland and firefighter Swanson were caused directly and proximately by the negligent, careless, intentional and/or reckless conduct of the Carney Defendants."

The engineering group's "acts and omissions were a substantial factor, a factual cause, and/or increased the risk of harm to (the firefighters)," the lawsuits state.

'Permanent injury': Altland and Swanson each suffered "serious and permanent injury," according to the lawsuits.

York City Firefighter Ivan Flanscha

The lawsuit filed in May by Casey Flanscha and Hoffman makes similar allegations against Carney Engineering Group.

"The deaths of firefighter Flanscha and firefighter Anthony were caused directly and proximately by the negligent, careless, intentional, and/or reckless conduct of the Carney defendants," according to that lawsuit, which seeks $50,000 each for Flanscha's and Anthony's families and alleges both professional negligence and wrongful death.

Clain, Carney Engineering's attorney, in July filed an answer to Casey Flanscha's and Hoffman's pending lawsuit.

Not retained? The answer states that Josh Carney, who is a structural engineer, came to the site  March 22 at the request of the building's owner to determine which portions of the structure might be salvageable.

"It is denied that (Carney Engineering or Carney himself) were retained to advised the York Fire Department," the filing states. "It is admitted only that Mr. Carney made visual observations of a limited portion of the interior of the building and that he made additional visual observations of a limited portion of the building from a Fire Department bucket truck."

York City Firefighter Zachary Anthony

The filing denies there was professional negligence on the part of the engineering group and states that Carney Engineering Group "acted at all times in a reasonable manner," but "did not supervise or direct the firefighting activities of the York Fire Department or the (firefighters)."

Also, Clain wrote in his July filing, the engineering group "did not advise the York Fire Department ... that the building was sound."

After an investigation, a team from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was unable to determine a cause of the blaze, according to an ATF news release.

Ivan Flanscha became a York City firefighter in 1999. Anthony was hired in 2010. 

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