Helfrich: 'Just somebody's opinion' that poor risk analysis led to firefighter deaths
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich dismissed findings of a federal report that laid out the city fire department's failure to properly account for the risks of reentering a collapsing building that killed two firefighters in 2018.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on Monday released the 57-page report detailing the "inadequate risk vs. gain analysis" and other factors that contributed to the deaths of firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zach Anthony.
"That's just somebody's opinion," Helfrich said, adding that inspection of the area determined there was "no imminent issue" before declining to explain his own take on the report's assertion about risk analysis.
Flanscha and Anthony, ages 50 and 29 respectively, died March 22, 2018, when a wall collapsed at the former Weaver Piano & Organ Co. building, which had been heavily damaged in a fire that began the previous day.
Factors contributing to the incident were inadequate risk vs. gain analysis; an already collapsing structure; an inactive sprinkler system; and a deep-seated fire that couldn't be reached by exterior master streams, the report states.
The recommendations include conducting an initial risk vs. gain analysis when responding to fires — and continuing to do so throughout the extinguishing process — and training firefighters to better understand the hazard of collapse zones.
Local municipalities should also consider requiring the use of sprinkler systems even during renovation work, the report continued.
Helfich addressed the report Thursday after York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff declined to comment. The mayor emphasized that it was an educational report based on the tragedy, but "there was definitely pertinent information missing."
"The report is designed as an educational tool for fire departments throughout the country," Helfrich said. "I assume this is going to be utilized as a tool to train organizations."
Helfrich clarified some recommendations. The city already trains firefighters to deal with collapse zones, he said. Enhanced sprinkler systems are a legislative issue that could be a financial burden, he said.
The city had revoked the building's "NO ENTRY" order months before the incident and has both in-house and third-party emergency response teams, which Helfrich said the report failed to get right.
But the city is limited in what it can say about the incident because there is ongoing litigation related to the two deaths and the remaining two firefighters that were injured, Helfrich said.
On March 21, 2018, firefighters responded to a structure fire with possible entrapment at the 140-year-old building they day before the collapse. An evacuation was later ordered after the fire spread rapidly throughout the 53,000-square-foot building.
Cracks eventually began to form along the exterior wall, and a large portion of the structure collapsed. Firefighters continued to work overnight. The next morning, the department sent a hose line crew onto the third and fourth floors to extinguish the remaining hot spots.
While the firefighters were inside the building, another collapse occurred, dropping Flanscha, Anthony and two others to the ground. For the next 30 minutes, crews worked to save the injured firefighters but were unable to save them all.
The remaining two firefighters, Erik Swanson and Assistant Chief Greg Altland, were treated for non-life-threatening injuries and later decided to file lawsuits in York County Court against Carney Engineering Group Inc. and its president, Josh Carney.
The lawsuits claim Carney Engineering had improperly advised 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.
A lawsuit filed four months earlier by Casey Flanscha and Allison Brooke Hoffman — the wife and fiancee of the dead firefighters, respectively — makes similar allegations against Carney Engineering Group.
The two women are seeking $50,000 each for their families, alleging both professional negligence and wrongful death.
All of the lawsuits are still active, according to court records.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.