By Dan Wing, Jim Melwert

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A female Philadelphia firefighter died Tuesday morning while battling a house fire in the West Oak Lane section of the city.

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The firefighter, identified as 11-year veteran Joyce Craig, was the first female firefighter ever killed in the line of duty in Philadelphia.

(credit: Philadelphia Fire Department)

(credit: Philadelphia Fire Department)

The fire was first reported at about 2:49 a.m. in the basement of a home on Middleton Street.

According to Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, firefighter Craig was part of the initial group of firefighters who tried to control the fire to the basement.

At some point, the incident commander at the scene ordered a withdraw from the residence. All of the firefighters retreated from the home, but it was at that point, Sawyer said, that they realized firefighter Craig was still inside the home.

The firefighters went back into the home and were able to locate firefighter Craig in the basement. Craig  was rushed to Albert Einstein Medical Center, but she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

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“This is a very sad day for all of us,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said during an afternoon news conference. “We suffered a tragic loss this morning.”

The scene of the fire that killed a Philadelphia firefighter. (Credit: Jim Melwert)

The scene of the fire that killed a Philadelphia firefighter. (Credit: Jim Melwert)

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of this firefighter, who’s made the ultimate sacrifice fighting a fire, to all of our Philadelphia firefighters. Their family, our family, has suffered a loss,” said Nutter. “To the citizens of this city, please know, this firefighter was doing her job to the best of her ability, but unfortunately died fighting this fire.”

Fire Commissioner Sawyer started his remarks by saying, “There are two families that have suffered losses this morning. The firefighter family, and the person who lost her life — their family.”

“Basement fires are very challenging by nature, because of their location,” Sawyer said. “Whenever you have a basement fire, it’s challenging because you’re running down into a chimney effect.”

As part of the investigation, Sawyer said all of Craig’s equipment is in safe-keeping and will be examined.

 

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Firefighters put up a black bunting at the station on 4th and Arch later Tuesday morning. (Credit: Tony Hanson)

Firefighters put up a black bunting at the station on 4th and Arch later Tuesday morning. (Credit: Tony Hanson)

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 Loved ones of Joyce Craig told Eyewitness News the fallen firefighter had a passion for her job.

Hours after her death, Craig’ aunt and cousin visited the scene of her last call.

“As dangerous as the job is, it didn’t matter to her. It’s what she wanted to do,” said her cousin, Letisha Battle.

“A single mother doing all she can to keep her family safe, and helping other families out,” said Claudia King, Craig’s aunt. “But that was her life. Firefighting was her life.”

Inside Engine 64, where Craig was stationed, her colleagues placed a bouquet of flowers above her locker in her honor.

Inside Engine 64, where Craig-Lewis was stationed, her colleagues placed a bouquet of flowers above her locker in her honor.  (credit: David Spunt/CBS3)

Inside Engine 64, where Craig was stationed, her colleagues placed a bouquet of flowers above her locker in her honor. (credit: David Spunt/CBS3)

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About 50 people held a vigil in Craig’s honor in front of Engine 64 Tuesday night. Neighbors organized the event, and some of her colleagues told the crowd about Craig.

“She continually was outstanding doing everything she could to make sure somebody was saved or property was saved and we miss her,” said Lieutenant Benny Hutchins.

Hutchins worked closely with Craig over the past three years at Engine 64.

“She didn’t want to let gender get in the way of anything. She wanted to prove that point,” Hutchins said.

The 36-year-old Craig leaves behind a 16-year-old son and a 16-month-old daughter.

This is the first death in the line of duty for the Philadelphia Fire Department since captain Michael Goodwin was killed in 2013.

Engine 64 with black bunting over the door. (Credit: Jan Carabeo/CBS3)

Engine 64 with black bunting over the door. (Credit: Jan Carabeo/CBS3)

CBS 3 Eyewitness News reporters Justin Finch, David Spunt, and Jan Carabeo contributed to this report.

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