Thank you, Mr. President. Fires at large vacant buildings are killers in more ways than one. Not only do these blazes cause more firefighter injuries than any other property classification, they also damage nearby homes and businesses and destroy the fabric of the community.
Whether the buildings are abandoned or vacant, more than 70 percent of fires occurring in them are incendiary and suspicious. They're targets for kids, vandals, drug users, and the homeless. Abandoned large buildings put firefighters at extra risk. Stripped of wiring, pipes and other components for scrap, they often contain open shafts or pits, becoming mantraps, allowing fires to spread rapidly.
On April 9th, 2012 at 3:13 a.m., a fire broke out in an abandoned six-story hosiery warehouse at York and Jasper Streets. The warehouse covered more than half a block. The Philadelphia Fire Department pulled five alarms, and the fire was placed under control after a little more than two hours. Twenty-nine minutes after the fire started, four firefighters battling an extension of flames into an adjoining furniture business became trapped in a collapse. Lieutenant Robert Neary, 60, and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, age 25, both of the Fire Department's Ladder 10 station, died when a wall collapsed and buried them. The two other firefighters survived, but were injured. Lieutenant Neary's wife, Diane, is here today. Firefighter Dan Sweeney's mom, Miriam, and dad, Captain Dave Sweeney, are here. Also President of Local 22, Joe Schulle, is here and has participated and reviewed this draft.
Each year an average of 100 firefighters die in the line of duty. To address this problem, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, started the Firefighters Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program. NIOSH conducts independent investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths and issues substantive reports with recommendations.
The recently released NIOSH report found eight contributing factors to the deaths of Lieutenant Neary and Firefighter Sweeney. One, multi-alarm fire in a vacant, abandoned structure; two, dilapidated building; three, high winds; four, collapsed zone maintenance; five, fire ground communications; six, personal accountability; seven, training on fire ground operations; and finally, eight, situational awareness.
Today I introduced an ordinance that will take steps to reduce firefighter, other first responder, and community risks, but presented by items one and two. I seek to amend the Philadelphia Fire Code by providing requirements to create a vacant property task force charged with compiling an inventory and database of such properties. It calls for an inspection team with specific responsibilities when evaluating abandoned and vacant buildings, structures, and premises.
Sadly, I talked with the Administration on numerous occasions over the last year and a half about the troubling fact pattern surrounding the April 2012 fire. I attempted to engage them in a collaborative effort to learn more from that tragedy and make substantive change to save lives and protect our communities. Unfortunately, that request was not responded to.
The District Attorney's Office currently has a grand jury looking into this matter, and we are all anxious to hear the findings. I'm confident their presentment will be absolutely scathing. I am certain it will be full of meaningful recommendations and challenge us to be better, and I am also certain the Administration missed an opportunity to be proactive.
I believe this ordinance is a sorely needed and proactive step in the right direction.
Thank you, Mr. President. Again, I would like to recognize President Schulle and the families of our heroes in the back of the Chamber.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.