York firefighters killed in line of duty: Agency to help 'get to the bottom of this'

Written by Ted Czech/The York Daily Record | Apr 10, 2018 5:26 PM

This painting by Philadelphia Police Officer Jonny Castro depicts Ivan Flanscha and Zachary Anthony, York firefighters who died in the line of duty in March 2018. (Photo: Jonny Castro Art)

(York) -- A group of federal investigators is scheduled to meet with York officials next week in advance of launching an analysis into the deaths of two city firefighters, according to Philip Given, Mayor Michael Helfrich's chief of staff.

Given said the group, the Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, a division of the Centers for Disease Control, reached out to York Fire Chief David Michaels in the days after the firefighters died in a building collapse.

"They offered their assistance in an investigation," Given said. "They are specialists at this type of investigation, so I think it's important for them to come to the community and do this."

York Firefighters Ivan Flanscha, 50, and Zachary Anthony, 29, died March 22 after the collapse at the Weaver Organ and Piano building in the 100 block of North Broad Street. The building was heavily destroyed in a fire the previous day.

Two other firefighters, Assistant Chief Greg Altland, 52, and firefighter Erik Swanson, 50, also were on the fourth floor of the building extinguishing remnants of the fire when the floor collapsed, according to Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms spokeswoman Charlene Hennessy. The two survived, but suffered injuries.

On its website, the Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program states it "conducts independent investigations of fire fighter line-of-duty deaths and recommends ways to prevent deaths and injuries" but does not "enforce compliance with state or federal job safety and health standards or determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual fire fighters."

The collapse that killed Anthony and Flanscha was the second time during the fire that part of the building gave way. The first collapse occurred about 6 p.m. March 21, the day the fire broke out.

The ATF was the first federal agency to investigate the fire, with the aim of determining its cause and origin. The agency stated it did not find any evidence that the fire was intentionally set.

York City Deputy Fire Chief Chad Deardorff said last week the ATF is expected to release a statement within about a month's time.

Fred DeSantis, president of the York Professional Firefighters Union, said Tuesday he had heard that another federal agency was expected to arrive in York soon and welcomed it.

"Our guys, they still got a lot of questions, they're angry," he said. "The guys deserve some kind of closure; they have a right to know why decisions were made ... Obviously, nobody wants this to happen in the future."

Deardorff said Tuesday that he too, looked forward to the investigation.

"Our goal is to protect our personnel, so this is a step to getting to that point," he said.

Deardorff said the decision to agree to the agency looking at the fire was made between him, Michaels, York Mayor Michael Helfrich and Interim York City Police Chief Troy Bankert.

Having a third-party investigate the fire is the best course of action to arrive at the result officials desire, "to get to the bottom of this," he said. 

"We'll equate it to the state police investigating when York City Police are involved in a shooting," Deardorff said. "You can't truly go in with unbiased eyes when its your own department." 

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record. 

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