We admire their bravery. We applaud their dedication. We praise them for signing up for dangerous duty. And when one of our firefighters dies while serving us, we mourn.
That's what we did after the death of Inwood volunteer Joseph Sanford Jr. in a blaze in Woodmere in December. But now that a state investigation of his passing found several violations of federal safety and training standards that might have contributed to Sanford's death, we're also angry and frustrated.
Sanford, a highly regarded 17-year veteran and former head of the department's training, did not have an assigned partner when he and his comrades entered the burning house -- "two in, two out" is the rule. They did not tell the fire scene commander they were going in -- the commander thought they were staying outside to rescue firefighters if needed -- and did not give him their I.D. tags, which are used to count firefighters ordered out of a building. There also was no record Sanford received the most recent training needed to enter a burning building. Only after a mayday was issued did anyone realize Sanford was missing. He was found alone in the basement, face down in as much as 18 inches of water. He died four days later from complications from a near drowning.
A fuller report to be issued by federal authorities in December might better unravel what happened that night. But if any good can come from this, it's that Inwood and other departments are reminded of the importance of proper training and following established procedures.
Firefighters risk their lives whenever they rush to a fire. Sanford's death makes heartbreakingly clear that we need to do everything we can to make sure they come home.