By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Relatives of two Philadelphia firefighters who died in a 2012 warehouse fire in Kensington (see related story) today lent their support to a City Council initiative to step up the city’s oversight of vacant properties.
Councilman Dennis O’Brien introduced a measure that calls for a new inventory of vacant properties, a searchable database of that inventory, and a task force to grapple with the many issues posed by the structures.
Diane Neary, widow of Lt. Robert Neary, told reporters at City Hall that, if approved, the changes would help the city avoid further such tragedies.
“I pray that the City of Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love and caring — will follow through with this bill and will look at the vacant spot where my husband died, and Danny died, and know the vacantness that can happen in someone else’s life,” she said.
“Danny” was a reference to firefighter Daniel Sweeney, who also died in the Kensington fire. Sweeney’s parents, David and Marian Sweeney, also attended the news conference in support.
Joe Schulle, head of the Philadelphia firefighters’ union, Local 22, said he welcomed the legislation because the Fire Department itself has done little since the April 2012 blaze.
“The reality of the Philadelphia Fire Department is that this incident could happen again tomorrow,” Schulle said.
Councilman O’Brien notes “there are, maybe, 35,000 abandoned buildings in the city. We want to start with these, because in every industrial city in the United States these present the most real and present danger.”
Part of O’Brien’s proposal is a pilot program that focuses on vacant structures in the city’s 7th District, which includes the portion of Kensington where the firefighters died.
A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections says the department already does many of the things called for in the O’Brien proposal. She says that L&I has already identified, researched, and mapped every one of the estimated 25,000 vacant properties in the city. About 13,000 of them have been inspected, she said, and the owners of 8,500 of those have been cited for unsafe conditions.