Remembering a ‘true hero’

Inwood street dedicated to fallen firefighter

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Less than two years after Inwood volunteer firefighter Joseph Sanford Jr. died of injuries he sustained while trying to extinguish a house fire in Woodmere, the Town of Hempstead dedicated Davis Avenue in Inwood, where he lived, in his memory, as Joseph Sanford Jr. Avenue.

Sanford, 43, a 19-year veteran of the Inwood Fire Department, was one of the first firefighters on the scene of a fire at 787 Central Ave. early in the morning of Dec. 19, 2014, when he fell through the first floor of a vacant house to the basement and was trapped under debris. A fire had begun at 3:56 a.m. at the home, which was undergoing renovations, and Sanford had responded to the initial 911 call. Other firefighters found him as they made their way through the home.

He was posthumously named a chief of the department. He had made his way up the ranks from probationary firefighter to lieutenant to captain, and became the department’s first African-American assistant chief.

A procession that included his widow, Jacqueline Scott-Sanford, their daughter, Janisha, and members of the Fire Department marched down Davis Avenue to its intersection with Elm Road last Saturday, where the street sign was unveiled.

“Joseph served as the department Santa Claus on the fire truck and was a beloved member of the Inwood community,” said Town Supervisor Anthony Santino. “A true hero who made the ultimate sacrifice serving his neighbors and community.”

Luke Magliaro, the department’s chaplain, fondly recalled Sanford running community youth programs and as a dedicated employee of the town’s Highway Department. “We will continue to mark the loss of Junior,” Magliaro said, using Sanford’s nickname. “He was a beloved resident of the Inwood community.”

Remembering Sanford’s smile and easy-going countenance, Inwood Chief Frank Parise said, “He left a big hole in our hearts.”

The weather was raw and windy, with rain pelting those who gathered for the ceremony. Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman said that it was a day Sanford would have loved, because it fit the season. “Junior was a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and this is his kind of day,” Blakeman said, eliciting laughter, which lightened the somber mood. “But this dedication isn’t just appropriate for the firefighters, but for the family who have handled this tragedy with grace and poise. The town will always be there for you.”

The Sanford family has had the support of not only the town and the Inwood department, but also of other fire departments and police, as well as the Manhattan-based nonprofit Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which coordinated a fundraiser to help pay off the Sanfords’ mortgage and defray the cost of future renovations.

“This is very overwhelming — it’s a beautiful tribute,” Jacqueline said of the dedication. “The fire department was in his heart.” Asked how she felt about the new street sign, Janisha said, “Proud. This is just so no one forgets.”

Santino reminded attendees that it’s easy to take for granted what volunteer firefighters do. “We lost one of the best of us,” he said of Sanford. “These volunteers epitomize the term ‘hero.’”