EDITORIAL: Sacrifice and everyday heroics

The York Dispatch

A few days before a wall collapsed on him and three other York City firefighters, Assistant Chief Greg Altland pulled his department vehicle to the curb.

He’d seen a group of homeless men waiting to cross the street to a rescue mission.

Altland stopped to hand out food vouchers, “stuff that would help an average guy get through the day,” said one beneficiary who phoned The York Dispatch to describe the scene.

The caller had heard about the tragedy Thursday, March 22, that killed firefighters Ivan Flanscha and Zachary Anthony and injured Altland and firefighter Erik Swanson. 

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The gentleman said he just wanted to let the community know the assistant chief acted like “a down-to-earth human … didn’t even ask my name.”

Deputy Chief Chad Deardorf, center, talks with Steve Buffington, left, and Mayor Michael Helfrich at the scene of a wall collapse at yesterdays N. Broad St. fire. Several firefighters were trapped and injured. At least three were transported from the scene by ambulance. John A. Pavoncello photo

It’s a fitting reminder.

Not every day brings a life-or-death emergency.

Often the men and women of the York City Fire Department are working to prevent tragedies, to improve the lives of residents — whether that be teaching them how to keep their homes safe or keeping them fed if they don’t happen to have a home.

We think that’s a rescue just the same.

Still, firefighters never know what the next call will bring, whether they’ll be asked to rush into a burning row house to rescue a baby or climb hundreds of flights of stairs to lead trapped workers out of an office tower.

They know this: they’re professional and they’re careful, and they train constantly to mitigate risk.

But the risk is always there.

Flanscha and Anthony were the 32nd and 33rd York City firefighters killed in the line of duty, and the first such deaths in nearly 50 years.

York City Firefighter Ivan Flanscha

They, along with Altland, Swanson and dozens of other firefighters and emergency personnel, were at the scene of the old Weaver Piano & Organ building at 127 N. Broad St. on Thursday.

The building had been heavily damaged in a fire the day before. The blaze was mostly under control by Thursday, but there were still hot spots that firefighters were dousing.

By then, they knew there was no one inside.

But this was a massive, four-story structure that took up much of the city block.

The blaze had left a partial brick shell that threatened nearby homes and businesses and cast a shadow on a sidewalk used by children walking to the Goode School a few blocks away.

York City Firefighter Zachary Anthony, 29, was killed in the line of duty when a wall collapsed on him March 22, 2018.

It’s fitting that hundreds of people gathered at that very elementary school Saturday evening to acknowledge the sacrifice.

It’s  not surprising the community is pulling together to help raise funds for Flanscha and Anthony’s families, as well as for the families of Altland and Swanson, who are recovering from their injuries.

We’re grateful for everything York City firefighters did last week on North Broad Street.

And we’re also thankful for what they do every day — things that perhaps only a small group of homeless men ever would have noticed.