Two firefighters died and two more suffered injuries in a building collapse in York, Pennsylvania. The collapse happened on Thursday, March 22, as firefighters searched for hot spots following a massive blaze at the Weaver Organ and Piano building, a historic building that was being renovated for residential units. Investigators treated the situation as a potential homicide, though officials said that was because a public safety person died at the scene and not because there was firm evidence of homicide.
The building collapse highlights the dangers firefighters face when they enter burned structures, even in the aftermath of a fire.
Building Collapsed One Day After Weaver Organ and Piano Fire
Initially, firefighters were called to the Weaver Organ and Piano factory to battle a blaze on Wednesday, March 21. During that initial battle, part of the building collapsed but no one was injured.
The following day, a four-person crew was back in the building to look for hot spots and to determine a cause for the structure fire when part of the building collapsed, trapping the four. All four were taken to the hospital, where two later died. Among the victims of the York building collapse:
- Ivan Flanscha, who died in the hospital;
- Zachary Anthony, who died in the hospital;
- Greg Altland, Assistant Chief, who was taken to the hospital; and
- Erik Swanson, who was also taken to the hospital.
Flanscha and Anthony were reportedly the first York firefighters to die in the line of duty in almost 50 years and were the 12th and 13th to die in the York Fire Department’s history. Altland and Swanson were released from the hospital the following day with cuts and bruises.
“This is the worst day in my career, this is the worst day for the York City Fire Department,” said York Fire Chief David Michaels. “These were the guys you wanted in the firetruck.”
Officials from ATF Assist in Homicide Investigation Sparked by Fire and Structure Failure
The Weaver Organ and Piano building was a former factory that was being converted into residential units when the fire started. Residents who lived near the building were told it could be a week or more before they would be allowed to return home.
Meanwhile, around 40 agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on-scene to assist in investigating the fire. The investigation was delayed, however, as inspectors first had to deem the building safe to enter. Anyone who entered the building had to have permission to do so and was required to wear protective gear.
York’s mayor, Michael Helfrich, told reporters that the fire would be investigated as a homicide, though that was normal procedure given the circumstances.
“It’s being investigated as a potential homicide,” Helfrich said. “That doesn’t mean that there’s any evidence of that. It just means that we have an employee, a public safety person, who has died on the scene, and it gets investigated.”
The preliminary investigation did not reveal the fire’s cause, and officials continued clearing out debris looking for any potential trigger, including space heaters, which might have accidentally started the fire. Officials reportedly have an idea of where the fire started, but have not released an official cause. The investigation did find, however, that the firefighters were on the building’s fourth floor when the floor collapsed, trapping them.
Special Agent Charlene Hennessy described the scene as “mass destruction,” with a “significant amount of debris.”
Firefighters Killed in York Building Collapse Remembered
Ivan Flanscha, 50, was with the York department for 20 years and in 2004 was named York’s Firefighter of the Year. Colleagues and friends remembered him as being a very laid-back man who loved his children and was an excellent firefighter.
Zachary Anthony, 29, started with the department in 2010. His friends and colleagues remembered him as a joy to be around, who was happy-go-lucky and loved to make people laugh.
“We’re all a tight knit family and they were our blood brothers, and it’s really just devastating right now,” said York Professional Firefighters Association president Fred DeSantis.
Community members have taken the time to drop off flowers at the fire stations, overwhelming the fire department with their support. The York Professional Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 627, and the City of York Fire Department set up a GoFundMe page to help Flanscha and Anthony’s families to help the families of those who were injured in the York building collapse. The page had a goal of $100,000 and within seven days collected $80,000.