Grand jury: Changes could avert future tragedy

Posted: February 05, 2014

THERE ISN'T a hint of a silver lining to the April 2012 Kensington factory fire that claimed the lives of two Philadelphia firefighters.

A grand-jury report released yesterday by the District Attorney's Office laid the blame for the deaths of Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney at the feet of Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, the arrogantly reckless owners of the former Thomas Buck Hosiery factory, and the gang that couldn't shoot straight - the Department of Licenses & Inspections and the Law and Revenue departments.

No one involved will be prosecuted.

But aside from eviscerating the parties who played a role in the fatal blaze, the grand jury also offered recommendations at the end of its 110-page report to help avoid future catastrophes.

Officials, the grand jury said, should:

* Change the Crimes Code so that a property owner could be held criminally liable if anyone is injured or killed because of the owner's failure to remedy fire- or building-code violations.

* Have an outside agency evaluate L&I "top to bottom" because of "numerous failures" in the agency's dealings with the Lichtensteins long before the Buck factory was consumed by flames.

* Require L&I to verify whether an applicant for a property license or permit has any outstanding code violations or tax delinquencies at other properties.

* Ensure that L&I logs citizen complaints about dangerous properties into its system, and not mark them as "resolved" until the code violations are actually corrected.

* Allow city agencies, like L&I and the Revenue Department, to have easy access to one another's records about property owners.

In a statement last night, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison noted that L&I and Fire Department officials now meet to discuss dangerous properties, which was another grand-jury recommendation.

City Councilman Dennis O'Brien also introduced legislation last week to create a searchable database of the city's vacant buildings, and a task force to deal with the issue.


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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