Union: Oust fire commissioner

Posted: May 24, 2012

THE CITY’S firefighter union lambasted top fire commanders Tuesday, calling for their resignation and claiming that they made crucial, tactical errors in the April 9 Kensington warehouse inferno that killed two firefighters.

Bill Gault, Local 22 president, demanded the resignation or suspension of Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and his deputies, Ernest Hargett and John Devlin, contending that they “are all guilty of incompetence and indifference.”

Gault blamed Ayers for not being at the fire scene, and blamed Hargett, the deputy commissioner for operations, for abdicating his authority at the scene to Devlin, the deputy commissioner of technical services.

Michael Bresnan, the union’s recording secretary, said that fire commanders failed to set up a “collapse zone” — an area around the vacant, burning Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building — that should have prevented firefighters from getting too close to the blazing warehouse.

Firefighters also should not have been ordered into the adjacent furniture store, where Lt. Robert Neary, 59, and firefighters Daniel Sweeney, 25, Pat Nally, 26, and Francis Cheney, 43, were when a roof and wall of the furniture store pancaked, killing Neary and Sweeney. “This is a case where it’s a furniture store,” Bresnan said at a news conference. “Who are we worried about? Some furniture burning?”

Bresnan also contended that the wind-whipped fire was mistakenly limited to five alarms because of a “lack of manpower” from the city’s policy of rolling brownouts.

Afterward, Michael Resnick, the city’s director of public safety, with Hargett at his side, called the union’s claims “scandalous, scurrilous, bold-faced lies.”

He said no one will resign. Resnick said that there was a collapse zone established, but would not elaborate. He said that he was limited in what he could say because of ongoing investigations by a grand jury and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Ayers, reached by phone, said that there was a collapse zone. Asked if the zone requires a physical barrier, he said, “It’s situational,” but declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigations.

Bresnan contended that a collapse zone requires a physical barrier.n

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or shawj@phillynews.com.

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