INWOOD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A tragic fire that claimed the life of a volunteer firefighter on Long Island is leading to changes in the way volunteer fire departments operate.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday, a New York State report recently cited the volunteer’s fire department for federal safety and training violations. Officials from the department said the report amounted to blaming the victim.
Sanford’s gear still hangs in the firehouse in Inwood, Long Island – not to be confused with the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of the same name. And eight months after his death, the state Labor Department’s Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau cited the Inwood Fire Department with four violations.
They included failing to submit identification tags that keep track of those entering a burning house, and failing to maintain constant visual or voice contact.
Experts said firefighters are grouped in pairs to account for everyone.
“The rule is in place to protect the lives of firefighters, and firefighters — most firefighters — are well aware of it,” said Nassau County Assistant Chief Fire Marshal John Priest.
Sanford was unaccounted for inside the burning house. He found in the basement, and he may have fallen through a hole in the floor.
The suspected cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion from varnish-soaked rags from a renovation.
The report also cited training lapses — Sanford had missed annual and quarterly training sessions.
“Joe was the teacher; the instructor,” said former Inwood fire Chief Anthony Rivelli.
Inwood fire officials blasted the report for blaming the victim.
“I’m somewhere maybe along the line, we skip; we break a rule – you know, depending you are with; what you feel the experience is of the other people around you. Joe was a highly experienced veteran,” Rivelli said.
The tragic December fire was at the home of CBS2’s vice president of news. The firefighter’s family’s attorney said the family hopes the report saves lives, and believes Sanford may have gotten separated from his team for good reason.
“They didn’t know that house was empty. They’re searching for babies,” said attorney Christopher McGrath. “When you’re on a search mission, sometimes someone gets pulled away for a reason. Maybe they heard a noise; for whatever reason, who knows? And that’s why you can never criticize even his partner if he got pulled away to help somebody else who was doing something.”
The Inwood Fire Department is now rewriting training guidelines in response to the report. But its former chief said if firefighters are to comply with new regulations, it will require even more of their volunteer time.
Paramount Construction, the contractor in charge of the home renovation, told CBS2 that no blame should be assigned to the fire department or firefighter and it was simply a tragic accident.
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