EDITORIAL: York still stands by its fallen firefighters
York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff reflects on the department and community support one year after the tragedy. William Kalina, 717-505-5449/@BillKalina
"Mayday! Mayday! Men down, men down!"
Shortly after 3 p.m. March 22, 2018, four York City firefighters stood inside the former Weaver Piano and Organ Co. building at 127 N. Broad St. A massive fire had started the day before in the former factory, which was being renovated as apartments. Crews had been out at the scene for nearly 24 hours.
The fire coincided with a storm that dropped more than 2 feet of snow on the area, and department equipment shared space with mounds of snow as city crews worked to clear the streets and knock down what remained of the blaze.
And then the calls came out over the fire radio.
Part of the structure collapsed, and firefighters Ivan Flanscha, Zach Anthony and Erik Swanson and Assistant Chief Greg Altland fell.
Within minutes, all four were pulled from the rubble and rushed to York Hospital. Soon, Flanscha and Anthony were declared dead. Swanson and Altland were gravely injured.
Young firefighters stood at the site, staring, processing and continuing the work of making sure the fire would remain out. Others lined the halls at York Hospital, then more lined the streets of York City as the bodies were taken to the funeral home. Still more stood alongside roads and highways as a motorcade went to Allentown and back for the autopsies.
And the whole time, York City firefighters stayed with Flanscha and Anthony, keeping up the tradition that the bodies of firefighters who fall are never left alone.
Over the following weeks, vigils were held, then funerals and finally a memorial service that drew thousands from as far away as Canada.
And more than that, the community stood beside the surviving firefighters, bringing food to the stations, offering support during the many services. Around York City, residents changed their porch lights to red to show their solidarity.
As time went on, there were fundraisers to help the families and the department. A scholarship fund was started.
The support hasn't stopped, either. York City Fire Chief Chad Deardorff said a woman stopped him recently at the grocery to ask how the firefighters are doing.
The answer: They are coping. They are surviving. They are still doing their jobs.
"Knowing Zach and Ivan, they would have wanted that," Deardorff said.
Members of the department keep in touch with the families of the fallen men. Just because someone in the family dies, that doesn't mean the family goes away, Deardorff said.
"They are always going to be a part of this department," he said.
Many questions remain about what happened that day. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives couldn't determine a cause for the fire led to the building collapse.
Two lawsuits have been filed against York City-based Carney Engineering Group and its president, Josh Carney, alleging engineers told the fire department the building was safe to enter. Attorneys for the Flanscha and Anthony families filed a wrongful death suit in May, and Altland, Swanson and their wives filed a lawsuit with the same allegations in September.
At the site, a security fence pens in the pile of rubble.
A year has gone by since those calls for "Mayday" went out. A year for the community to reflect and remember, a year for their fellow firefighters to process the sacrifice Flanscha and Anthony made.
The wounds are still healing, the scars will remain, and still the community and the firefighters remain strong, working together to keep the memories alive and still keep doing the work that needs to be done.
As Deardorff said, Ivan and Zach would have wanted that.
Celebration of life
The community has another chance to show support for the firefighting community during a celebration of life service for Flanscha and Anthony 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.