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Former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Unhappy With How Current Department Handled Deadly April Fire

Former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer

Former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – “Disgraceful.”

That’s how a former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner describes how current department commanders handled the April Kensington warehouse blaze that claimed two firefighters’ lives (see related story).

The comments came Thursday in a city council hearing on the tragedy.

Former Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer told the council committee that top management made a basic mistake on the morning of the fire; in his view they failed to establish what’s called a collapse danger zone at the scene. That’s a zone that would be clear of all citizens and firefighters.

“There was the incident commander, his staff, the division commanders, the sector commanders, at least three safety officers,” he said. “And yet no one, no one had the sense to establish a clearly defined collapse zone around the entire building.  If I was to describe the command control and emergency scene management, my definition would be disgraceful.”

Council’s Public Safety Committee called the hearing to examine policies and procedures in the department in the wake of the April inferno.

Also testifying was a former New York City deputy fire commissioner, Vincent Dunn, who shared Ulshafer’s concern about the lack of a collapse zone.

“If there is no potential to save lives or property, there is no justification to expose fire department members,” he said.

Dunn said the department’s way of keeping track of firefighters, a command board, is obsolete.

“That’s prehistoric.  We (in New York) had the same command board before 9-11.  Now we have a command board that’s like an iPad.”

The current Philadelphia Fire Commissioner, Lloyd Ayers, did not appear.  His boss, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Mike Resnick, did attend, but said he could not discuss the matter because the District Attorney has empanelled a grand jury to review the tragedy.

Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney died on April 9th, when a wall in a store neighboring the warehouse collapsed.