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Grand Jury: No Provable Criminality In 2012 Deaths of Two Phila. Firefighters

Mike DeNardo Mike DeNardo
Mike DeNardo, a veteran of KYW Newsradio for more than 25 years,...
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By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia district attorney today released a grand jury report into a 2012 warehouse fire in Kensington that claimed the lives of two firefighters (see related story).

DA Seth Williams said that after an investigation that lasted nearly two years, the grand jury concluded it could not recommend criminal charges against anyone in this case.

(DA Seth Williams speaks to reporters about the grand jury's report on the deadly Kensington warehouse fire.  Photo by Mike DeNardo)

(DA Seth Williams speaks to reporters about the grand jury’s report on the deadly Kensington warehouse fire. Photo by Mike DeNardo)

The fire and subsequent collapse of the vacant warehouse took the lives of fire lieutenant Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney.

The grand jury did point a finger of blame, however, at the City of Philadelphia for failing to perform some of its basic functions.  The report noted that the building owners were not held accountable by the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections for repeated code violations nor for failing to pay taxes or water-and-sewer bills on the property that eventually burned.

The grand jury report says the owners turned off the electricity in the vacant building, allowed the property to be illegally stripped of its metals for scrap, and did nothing to keep squatters out.

The report also faulted Philadelphia Fire Department operations for failing to enforce the “collapse zone” it had established around the burning building.

However, according to the grand jury, city inspectors said that the building was sealed and, because an official cause of the blaze was never determined, the grand jury said it was unable to find a direct link between the firefighters’ deaths and any type of criminal conduct.

DA Williams said today he is frustrated by the outcome and wishes there were something he could do to give the Neary and Sweeney families closure in the case.

Nutter administration Chief of Staff Everett Gillison issued a statement saying the city would review the grand jury report. The statement said a special independent commission is already reviewing L&I practices:

“The Administration is in receipt of the very detailed grand jury report released today by the Office of District Attorney Seth Williams.  We thank the grand jury for its lengthy review and hard work.  Administration officials will carefully review the report and respond further in the days to come.
“For the past six years, the Administration has been committed to the continuous improvement of service delivery by City departments, none more so than in the area of public safety.  The grand jury report provides a detailed list of legislative and procedural recommendations to further improve safety, and the Administration will carefully consider all of them.
“In connection with these recommendations, the Administration has already named a Special Independent Commission to review the Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) practices, policies and procedures with recommendations expected in June 2014.  And recently the Philadelphia Fire Department and L&I began regular meetings to identify and address dangerous building conditions, including the use of clean & seal where trespass is an issue.”