After the Inwood Fire Department was cited by the New York State Labor Department Public Employee and Health Bureau last month for violating federal safety and training standards during a fire call last December, Chief Gaetano “Guy” Marino said that corrective actions have been implemented.
“Without a doubt we are doing a better job ob of recordkeeping and being more assertive when it comes to classifications of firefighters,” Marino said. “These corrective measures fell on my watch and we are being proactive.” He said the department will be more stringent when it comes to ensuring that firefighters are eligible for duty.
The four violations stem from a Dec. 19 house fire on Central Avenue in Woodmere, when Joseph Sanford Jr., a 17-year veteran Inwood volunteer firefighter, fell through the first floor of the home and died four days later due to the injuries he suffered.
According to the state report, Sanford entered the house without an assigned partner and that action violated the partner rule, which is known as – “two in, two out” —and requires firefighters going into a burning structure to have a designated partner for “constant visual or voice contact,” the report said.
The report also said that Sanford, 43, and the four other Inwood firefighters who entered the home did not give the Woodmere Fire Department incident commander what is known as their “accountability tags” the identity tags used when firefighters are ordered to leave a collapsing building and other hazardous situations. Only a mayday issued after Sanford, and the four other firefighters responded to the fire informed officials that Sanford was missing in action.
State investigators wrote, “Inwood FD members … had conflicting accounts of Mr. Sanford’s whereabouts after the initial entry into the fire structure, and none could account for his whereabouts for several minutes before the mayday call.
“No attempt was made by the fire team to contact Mr. Sanford during this period, nor was Mr. Sanford assigned a specific task,” investigators said.
“We have a corrective measure in place for accountability to have a verbal contact, communication face-to-face so there is no mix up with the orders being given from the command post,” Marino said.
Sanford’s widow, Jacqueline Scott-Sanford, who is represented by Inwood native and Garden City-based lawyer Christopher McGrath, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit with the Supreme Court of Nassau County in February against the owners of the Woodmere house and the contractors who were doing work on the premises. The suit alleges homeowners, David and Wendy Friend, painting contractors, E.M. Expert Corp. of Hempstead and general contractor, Paramount Construction Corp., of negligence and violation of building and fire codes.
McGrath, a Hewlett resident, said that the state’s findings does not impact the lawsuit and doesn’t think that the wrongful death suit had any impact on the state investigation. He said that Public Employee and Health Bureau officials never requested any information compiled by McGrath’s expert, a retired New York City fire chief, after he inspected the house and conducted an investigation.
“I think if this report keeps this from every happening again then that is all the Sanford family could hope for,” McGrath said. “Joseph Sanford was an experience by-the-book firefighter, who all of the young firefighters looked up to. He cared about his family and he cared about the community he live in.”
A more in-depth report concerning the fire response is expected to be released in December by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“Nobody wanted to see something like this happen,” Marino said, referring to Sanford’s death. “Unfortunately this is a dangerous occupation and it will be addressed appropriately, hopefully countywide as well.”