By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In a CBS 3 I-Team Exclusive, Eyewitness News has obtained a copy of a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH, providing the first answers into what factors led to the deaths of two Philadelphia firefighters battling a five-alarm warehouse fire on April 9, 2012.
The report, following a 19 month investigation, says the vacant, deteriorating warehouse posed a potentially deadly danger to firefighters, NIOSH listing it as “critical” the second highest threat level rating. Yet, the report reveals, despite nine complaints to the city’s Licenses and Inspections Department, and 65 people living in the vacant warehouse, following an L and I inspection in February, 2012, less than two months before the fire, “no violations were recorded.”
Fire Captain Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney died when the wall of the burning warehouse collapsed onto an adjoining furniture store where they were working. The report shows pictures, taken during the fire, that indicate there may have been a warning in advance of the collapse. The pictures show, early into the fire, a portion of the wall collapsed punching a hole in the furniture store roof. Yet the firefighters were not ordered out of the building. A total collapse of that same wall then proved deadly.
Quoting the report: “the first wall collapsed…should have been communicated to all members working at the incident.”
Firefighters’ Union president Joe Schulle, who, in April, 2012 battled the fire as a battalion chief, says many of the issues cited in the report come down to the need for more training for firefighters at all levels of the department.
A City of Philadelphia spokesperson says officials won’t comment for now, as they review the report. They also indicate that the Fire Commissioner plans to meet with the families of the fallen firefighters to discuss the findings.