Ex-commish lambastes Fire Dept. over warehouse blaze that claimed 2 firefighters

Posted: October 12, 2012

WITHOUT hesitation, former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer said that if he had to describe the emergency management of the Kensington warehouse blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters in April, it would be "disgraceful."

Ulshafer made the statement during a City Council committee hearing Thursday to determine if proper safety controls were in place when a five-alarm fire destroyed the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building. Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, of Ladder 10, died after a wall on a nearby building fell on them.

Ulshafer called for added training and accountability, and said that the commanders on the scene failed to set up collapse-danger zones and that an incident-safety officer was in the building with Ladder 10 before it collapsed.

"Right before it collapsed on Ladder 10, there was a safety officer right there in the building with them," Ulshafer said. "He didn't pull them out. He shouldn't have been in the building either."

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers was not at the Council hearing. Michael Resnick, the city's director of public safety, declined to discuss the details of the blaze and noted that there are two investigations - one by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and another by a local grand jury.

"Ulshafer cited unnamed sources in his testimony that seem to implicate Commissioner Ayers having some responsibility," said Resnick. "I believe it is irresponsible to make those types of statements in public when there is a grand jury investigatory panel."

Ulshafer and a retired New York City Fire Department deputy chief, Vincent Dunn, recommended additional training, GPS-tracking systems, information on the status of vacant buildings when firefighters respond to a fire call, wooden police barricades and a fire officer at each access point.

Capt. David Sweeney, 59, Daniel's father, who attended the hearing, said his family is forever changed.

"We cry every day," he said. "We greatly miss him."

Contact Jan Ransom at ransomj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5218. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.

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