S. Phila. blaze kills firefighter, injures 2d

The fire at Fourth and Fitzwater Streets began after 5 p.m. The owner of the store where it started speculated that the cause was electrical.
The fire at Fourth and Fitzwater Streets began after 5 p.m. The owner of the store where it started speculated that the cause was electrical. (PETER TOBIA / For the Inquirer)
Posted: April 08, 2013

A veteran Philadelphia fire captain died Saturday night fighting a three-alarm fire in a Queen Village fabric store when the roof of the three-story building collapsed beneath his feet.

The collapse - followed by the subsequent collapse of a second-floor roof and two walls - trapped Capt. Michael Goodwin, 53, inside the burning building, officials said. A second firefighter, Andrew Godlewski, suffered burns to his hands trying to rescue Goodwin before the second collapse.

Dozens of firefighters at the scene on South 4th and Fitzwater Streets saluted as the body of Goodwin, a 29-year veteran of the department, was carried out on a stretcher.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said Goodwin, who is survived by a wife and two grown children, was his friend. "He's the kind of guy who looked out for his folks - a big guy," Ayers, wet-eyed, told reporters late Saturday night. "A ladder man. A firefighter's firefighter."

Ayers said he last spoke with Goodwin, a captain of Ladder 27, Platoon B, at the city's recent Hero Scholarship Thrill Show. He said Goodwin's brother is a Philadelphia police narcotics officer.

Godlewski, a five-year veteran and member of Ladder 2, was in stable condition at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Ayers said Godlewski was briefly reported missing as he tried to save Goodwin.

The fatal fire came just short of a year after the previous deaths of Philadelphia firefighters in the line of duty. A warehouse blaze in Kensington last April 9 killed Capt. Robert Neary, 59, and Daniel Sweeney, 25, both of Ladder 10, and injured two firefighters.

"We have a department that is wounded," Ayers said. "We have scars that are fresh, and indeed they have now been reopened."

Saturday's fire was first reported at 5:33 p.m. in Jack B. Fabrics, which has operated on the 700 block of South Fourth - a block known as Fabric Row - for 37 years. The blaze spread to the building's upstairs apartments and to Urban Princess, a boutique next door.

The fabric store owner, Bruce Blumenthal, said he smelled smoke coming from the basement and found a box of collars and cuffs ablaze. He said the fire appeared to have started in a wall.

Blumenthal said that he grabbed a fire extinguisher to douse the flames but that within minutes, the fire had gone through a wall, filling his first-floor store with smoke.

Blumenthal and Cynthia Ray, one of Urban Princess' owners, said people in the buildings when the fire started had escaped safely after an alarm sounded. Firefighters had to assist one person.

Blumenthal speculated the fire was electrical because of where it appeared to have started.

Ayers said Engine 11 arrived at the scene within four minutes of the first report and found the first two floors smoke-filled. At 6:04 a second alarm was struck because of heavy smoke and flames.

At 6:21, Ayers said, "we were informed that we had a member that was down."

Moments later, it became a "member missing." Then, two.

The second-floor roof had caved in.

A third alarm was struck at 6:30.

"All of our resources tried to fight the fire and at the same time rescue this captain," the commissioner said. "During the rescue attempt, we had partial collapses of the roof" as well as two walls. "It was a very dangerous fire-fighting situation."

Firefighters were able to rescue Godlewski, but needed to cut through portions of the collapsed roof to free Goodwin.

Neighbors comforted Blumenthal and Ray as they sat on a curb and firefighters aimed hoses at the buildings. Ray said she and two friends had opened their business a year ago and had been getting ready to mark their anniversary.

"I'm OK," Blumenthal told well-wishers. "My life's done, but I'm fine."

That was before onlookers learned that a firefighter had died.

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said the city's flags would fly at half-staff for 30 days in Goodwin's honor.

Ayers said of the fallen captain and his family, "We ask you to hold them all up in prayer."

Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com.

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