By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Three years after two firefighters lost their lives battling a blaze in Kensington, and two years after six people died in a tragic building collapse on Market Street, Philadelphia is taking another step to tackle the problem of large, crumbling, vacant commercial properties.

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With more than 25,000 vacant properties, (and most of the most dangerous concentrated in North Philadelphia), the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections held a press conference today in North Philadelphia to announce that it is now partnering with the Philadelphia Fire Department to deal with the most egregious problems.

The fire department and L&I will perform joint inspections of commercial and industrial properties larger than 15,000 square feet.

“Our first responders risk their lives to protect citizens and our property,” said L&I commissioner Carlton Williams.  “These joint departmental inspections are just one way that we can identify vacant structures that pose the greatest risk to their lives and remove the threat.  This is a proactive response to dangerous conditions that have endangered the lives of our firefighters and citizens alike.”

Williams says fire and L&I officials will evaluate the properties for code violations and issue citations to owners.  Those structures deemed “unsafe” will be placed on the fast track for demolition.

(Following the press conferece, an unsafe building is demolished in North Philadelphia.  Photo by Cherri Gregg)

(Following the press conferece, an unsafe building is demolished in North Philadelphia. Photo by Cherri Gregg)

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“Knowing that our members are going to be safer is always rewarding for me,” said Derrick Sawyer, fire commissioner.

Meanwhile, mayor Michael Nutter is promising an additional $5.5 million in funding for 43 new positions, including eight more inspectors for the fire department and eight more for L&I.  The following year, the mayor says, an additional seven inspectors will be added in each department.

Officials kicked off the new program at the site of the demolition of a four-story building at 8th Street and Rising Sun Avenue — a sign, perhaps, of what’s to come.


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