Year after York firefighter deaths: 'They are always going to be a part of this department'
York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff reflects on the department and community support one year after the tragedy. William Kalina, 717-505-5449/@BillKalina
A year after York City firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zachary Anthony died in building collapse, Ivan's wife continues to travel, still lives in their same York Township home and keeps in contact with her late husband's family.
"I've tried to do everything that he would've wanted," Casey Flanscha said.
Ivan, 50, and Zach, 29, were killed March 22, 2018, when part of the former Weaver Piano & Organ Co. building at 127 N. Broad St. gave way. The structure had burned much of the previous day and the firefighters were putting out remaining hot spots.
Ivan and Zach were the 12th and 13th members of York City Fire Department to fall in the line of duty and the first since 1971. Ivan had been with the department since 1999; and Zach had been there since 2010.
Like Casey Flanscha, the firefighters' colleagues try to carry on as normal.
"Knowing Zach and Ivan, they would have wanted that," York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff said.
One year later: In the past year, there have been several fundraisers and events supporting the department and the families of the two fallen firefighters.
The community's response and support of the fire department has not gone unnoticed, according to the chief.
Deardorff recounted being approached recently by a woman in a store who asked him how the firefighters were doing, almost a year after the fatal collapse.
"The support we've had and continue to receive is truly, truly amazing," Deardorff said.
Community embraces during S.P.I.N. candlelight vigil for York City fallen firefighters.
The chief said two lockers will be built to memorialize Ivan and Zach. Inside the lockers will be their turnout gear, which will be behind plexiglass.
In Deardorff's 24 years with the department, the firefighters have never been closer, he said. Ivan and Zach's deaths gave the firefighters a new perspective.
"The wives are a close-knit group now," he added.
The chief remembered all of those who helped over the past year, including not just the community but the fire departments that stepped up when the firefighters died.
Not wanting to forget anyone, the department leased billboards expressing gratitude to those who helped.
"I'm hoping that the billboard was the answer," he said.
Flanscha: Casey Flanscha noted the support from the York community, saying she never realized how many people her husband knew until after he died.
“The support is still there a year later," she added.
Casey Flanscha said she has grown spiritually since Ivan's death and has made an effort to be more present for her friends and family.
“Life is pretty short, and you can't really plan for the future,” she said.
Ivan was a hyperactive person who loved music and traveling, his wife recalled.
“He joined the fire department because he needed insurance and a decent job," Casey said, adding that he grew to love it.
A crowd enters the memorial service for fallen York City firefighters Wednesday, March 28. Chris Dornblaser
Allison "Brooke" Hoffman, Zach's fiancee, could not be reached for comment.
Casey Flanscha is still in touch with the fire department, and some of the firefighters have helped her with things around her home.
"Their saying is, 'You'll always be family,'" she said.
Deardorff confirmed members of the department are still in touch with Casey Flanscha and Hoffman. Just because someone in the family dies, that doesn't mean the family goes away, he said.
"They are always going to be a part of this department," he said.
Swanson: Retired Assistant Chief Greg Altland and Firefighter Erik Swanson were with Ivan and Zach when the building collapsed, injuring them both.
Because of his injuries, Swanson has not yet returned to active duty. Altland retired in January, according to Deardorff, who said Altland had always intended to retire then.
In the months following the collapse, Swanson saw there were some fundraisers for the families, but he was concerned Ivan and Zach would only be remembered once a year.
He wanted to do something so their names could live on.
Swanson, along with the the York Professional Fire Fighters Association and the York Elks 213, created three Fuel Their Fire Scholarships.
One of the scholarships is for $2,000, and the others are for $2,000.46 and for $2,000.47. The 46 and 47 cents are to honor Ivan and Zach. Those were their badge numbers, respectively.
The first scholarship, in honor of all fallen York County firefighters, is open to any career or volunteer York County firefighter or immediate family member looking to further their education beyond high school.
The other two, in honor of Ivan and Zach, are open to any York County residents looking to further their education in fire services, emergency services, nursing or conservation.
Some events were held over the past year to help raise funds for the scholarships. Swanson said some events are planned for for this year but haven't been finalized yet
Swanson said he had survivor's guilt for the first few months following the collapse.
"After a few months, you learn to accept it," he said.
Swanson said he still has trouble walking, but he's working on getting back on the job.
Recently, Swanson saw footage of the collapse. He didn't even know it existed.
"As an outsider looking in, I would've thought nobody survived that," he said.
Swanson said creating the scholarship fund has been therapeutic for him.
"It keeps me connected to them in some strange way," he said.
A message left for Altland was not immediately returned Wednesday, March 20.
Fire: Crews handled a fire at the Weaver building the day before the collapse, but it's unclear what caused it. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was called in to investigate.
Charlene Hennessy, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia ATF field division, said investigators were unable to determine what led to the blaze.
It is possible that the exact cause never will be determined, she said. That could change should new evidence emerge, according to Hennessy, who said the investigation has concluded.
The ATF concluded its investigation in August. ATF officials determined the fire started somewhere on the first floor of the south wing, but extensive damage and lack of evidence meant investigators couldn't determine where exactly it started or what caused it.
It's unclear what will happen to what remains of the building. In May 2017, real estate developer Matt Steinkamp and Lara Bushey, his wife and business partner, had planned to convert the former factory into an apartment building.
Steinkamp did not return a message seeking comment.
York City Council President Henry Nixon said he wishes something would happen with the building, instead of having a fence around it.
“We’ve had this rubble for a year,” he said.
Lawsuits: Two lawsuits have been filed against York City-based Carney Engineering Group and its president, Josh Carney. The lawsuits allege engineers told the fire department the building was safe to enter.
Attorneys for Casey Flanscha and Hoffman filed a wrongful death suit in May, and Altland, Swanson and their wives filed a lawsuit with the same allegations in September.
Months after they were filed, an attorney for Carney filed responses to the complaints denying the allegations.
The lawsuits remain active as of Wednesday.
Service: A celebration of life service for fallen firefighters will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, March 22, at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 839 W. Market St.
The Kiltie Band of York will perform in front of the church at 6:30 p.m.
It will mark one year to the day that Ivan and Zach died.
WellSpan Blood Donor Center will be providing free T-shirts in their honor for every person who donates blood the week of Monday, March 18, through Friday, March 22.
Those who wish to donate blood can do so at the center at the Apple Hill Medical Center, 25 Monument Road, Suite 198.
The hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser. City reporter Rebecca Klar contributed to this report.