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Joseph Sanford Jr. dead at 43; Inwood volunteer firefighter had been injured battling Woodmere house fire, officials say

Joseph Sanford Jr., the critically injured Inwood firefighter

Joseph Sanford Jr., the critically injured Inwood firefighter who was pulled from the basement of a burning home early Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, has died, a fire official said.

A firefighter who was critically injured while battling a raging house fire in Woodmere on Friday has died, Nassau County officials said.

Joseph Sanford Jr., 43, died Tuesday afternoon at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset with his family around him, said Nassau Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael F. Uttaro.

Firefighters and police Wednesday morning accompanied an ambulance taking Sanford’s body from the hospital in Manhasset to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where the county’s medical examiner’s office is located, police and fire officials said.

Sanford, a longtime volunteer for the Inwood Fire Department, was pronounced dead at 3:51 p.m. as a result of "firefighter's injuries," said Inwood 1st Assistant Fire Chief Gaetano Marino.

The firefighter had been on a ventilator since the fire, authorities said.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Sanford's family declined to comment. Marino provided no further details.

Sanford, a father and husband, was one of several Inwood firefighters who joined efforts to search the home in teams during the early morning fire on Friday, fire officials said at the time.

He was discovered in the debris-strewn basement after the first floor collapsed, fire officials said.

Sanford was a 17-year veteran of the department and a former assistant fire chief. He worked for the Nassau County Public Works Department, where he was a favorite of co-workers.

"He was a funny guy; he would always joke around. He was always watching your back, making sure you don't get hurt out on the road," said Jason Lappe, 30, of Central Islip, who worked with Sanford for about 10 years, much of that time on road maintenance crews.

"If you needed somebody to talk to about anything, job-related or personal problems, he was the guy to go to talk to," Lappe said.

Lappe, a former Malverne firefighter, said Sanford loved his work for the fire department.

"He died doing something he enjoyed doing -- fighting fires, trying to save someone's personal property that he didn't even know," he said.

More than 200 volunteers from more than a dozen departments responded to the Woodmere home on Central Avenue after neighbors reported the fire shortly before 4 a.m. Friday, police and fire officials said.

Officials said the house had been renovated recently, and the owners were at their Manhattan apartment during the fire. Two other firefighters suffered minor injuries but were not hospitalized.

The Inwood department received a request for assistance at 4:08 a.m., and six volunteers including Sanford responded, along with two chiefs, authorities said.

Firefighters from Woodmere, Lawrence-Cedarhurst, Hewlett and Inwood entered the home minutes later and found that a section of the first floor had collapsed.

The firefighters were told to evacuate. Sanford, who hadn't been reported missing, was discovered when Hewlett volunteers later entered the basement, according to officials.

When Lappe heard that an Inwood firefighter had been injured, he reached out to his friend to make sure it wasn't him. He never heard back.

"I'm torn," Lappe said Tuesday night. "I'm going to miss working with him, laughing, joking around about stuff. He was a true guy, a true firefighter."

Woodmere Fire Chief Leonard Cherson said the man he knew as "Junior" was a friend and "outstanding individual all the way around. Just a super person."

"It's a sad day in the fire service to lose a great individual like this," Cherson said Tuesday.

A Jericho fire captain died on March 8, 2013, while responding to a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. George A. Turner, 60, of Hicksville died of a heart attack after he collapsed at the accident scene.

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