Philadelphia firefighter's death coincides with grim anniversary

Andrew Godlewski was burned trying to save Goodwin.
Andrew Godlewski was burned trying to save Goodwin.
Posted: April 09, 2013

The members of Ladder 10 and Engine 7 in Kensington, already set to mark the one-year anniversary of a fire that killed two of their members, on Sunday mourned the loss of another former comrade, Capt. Michael Goodwin, who died Saturday night fighting a three-alarm fire in a Queen Village fabric store.

Goodwin, 53, a 29-year Fire Department veteran, was captain of Ladder 27 in South Philadelphia and had served with Engine 7.

"It just kind of rips the scab off all at once," said Firefighter Edward Mulholland of Ladder 10, who worked alongside Goodwin for two years. "To have this thrown at you on top of it just magnifies it."

Goodwin, the wise old pro, mentored young firefighters at Ladder 10, including Daniel Sweeney, who died along with Lt. Robert Neary fighting a Kensington industrial fire on April 9, 2012.

The response from across the city was equally mournful Sunday: Mayor Nutter issued a statement praising Goodwin and the firefighter who was burned trying to save him, Andrew Godlewski.

"We must never forget the grave risks that these heroic public servants take every day at a moment's notice on behalf of us all," Nutter said.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers on Saturday called Goodwin "a ladder man. A firefighter's firefighter."

"A natural-born leader," Philadelphia Firefighters Union president Bill Gault said. Goodwin was "a hero whose valor will never be forgotten."

The fire was reported at 5:33 p.m. Saturday at Jack B. Fabrics on the 700 block of South Fourth Street. The 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.

Ayers said that an engine company arrived within four minutes and that at 6:21 - about 15 minutes after a second alarm was struck - officials were told a member was down.

According to a Fire Department source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, Goodwin had climbed a ladder to the third-floor roof, then fell about 20 feet onto a first-floor roof.

The source said Goodwin - 6-foot-3, 250 pounds - fell partly through the roof he landed on. He lay on his back, motionless.

From a neighboring building, the source said, Godlewski - a powerful weight lifter - placed a ladder horizontally on the roof, then crossed and tried to pull Goodwin by his legs. Goodwin was not moving, however, and Godlewski, battling an intensifying blaze, could not pry him free.

Eventually, the roof caved in, and Goodwin was swallowed up in the burning building under a heap of rubble.

After descending from the building, the source said, Godlewski staggered out, fell to his knees, and said: "I'm spent, and the captain's dead."

Godlewski was treated at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for burns to his hands and released Sunday.

Goodwin's body was found around 9 p.m. by Rescue One, a specialized unit that had to use jackhammers to pry through the debris.

Ladder 27 company carried its captain's badly burned body out, the source said. Dozens of firefighters saluted Goodwin's body as it was carried out on a stretcher.

Executive Fire Chief Richard Davison would not confirm details of the rescue effort, saying it was still being investigated.

Members of Goodwin's unit at Ladder 27 in South Philadelphia declined to comment Sunday.

But a few miles away, for members of Ladder 10, news of Goodwin's death was heartbreaking, Firefighter Craig Horwood said.

"You can't describe it," he said as firefighters filtered into the station before the overnight shift. "You're losing a family member."

Goodwin, who came to the Kensington firehouse as a lieutenant, spent several years at the station. He was promoted to captain around 2008 and rotated out after that, firefighters said.

He joined the Fire Department on Sept. 9, 1983, a few weeks after being honorably discharged from the Navy.

Calm and good-natured, "He got along with everybody," Horwood said. "He was well respected in this firehouse."

Goodwin enjoyed advising younger members of the platoon and encouraged them to study and take promotion exams, Mulholland said.

He was "a big teddy bear guy" who loved the firehouse, Mulholland said.

Goodwin "always had a big smile," he added. "Always."

"He loved it here," Mulholland said.

Goodwin worked for some time with Sweeney, Mulholland said. A bench outside the station dedicated "in memory of our fallen brothers" honors Sweeney, 25, and Neary, 59, who were killed when a wall and roof collapsed at a vacant mill.

The three losses cut across the entire department. "We're family. That's just inherent with the job, as danger is," Mulholland said. "So is that bond."

Seventeen residents of the block were displaced Saturday and were staying elsewhere Sunday, according to Dave Schrader, a spokesman for the American Red Cross.

Jack B. Fabrics, where the fire started, is closed until further notice. The Facebook page for Urban Princess Boutique, a neighboring store where the fire spread, said the store was destroyed but praised the Fire Department and offered condolences to Goodwin's family.

The store also posted a photo of a Ladder 27 truck on its page, joining scores of Goodwin's family and friends who took to the site to post images memorializing Goodwin. One popular image, set against a black backdrop, had his name and date of "last alarm" on either side of the Fire Department logo.

Goodwin is survived by his mother, Elizabeth; wife, Kelly; children Michael Goodwin and Dorothy Dunn; two grandchildren; two brothers; and a sister.

"The most important aspect of Michael's life was his family," relatives said in an obituary announcement. Gatherings for Goodwin's family and friends will be Wednesday night and Thursday morning at Givnish Funeral Home on Academy Road. His funeral is scheduled for noon Thursday at St. Michael's Lutheran Church.

A slight change will be made to a previously planned memorial ceremony at City Hall on Tuesday. Where two wreaths were to be laid to mark the anniversary of Neary and Sweeney's death, there now will be three.


Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @cs_palmer.

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