Firemen’s deaths prompt bill to inventory Philly’s vacant buildings

Diane Neary (left) and Marian Sweeney (right) support a bill that would reduce firefighter and first responder accidents while working inside large and vacant buildings. Neary's husband and Sweeney's son both died in a Kensington warehouse fire in April 2012. (Credit: Charles Mostoller)
Diane Neary, left, and Marian Sweeney support a bill that would reduce firefighter and first responder accidents while working inside large and vacant buildings. Neary’s husband and Sweeney’s son both died in a Kensington warehouse fire in April 2012. Credit: Charles Mostoller

In a little more than two months, two families will endure the second anniversary of their loved ones’ deaths.

On April 9, 2012, firefighters Lt. Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney collapsed and died inside a dilapidated and vacant Kensington warehouse.

“We have been here two years,” said City Councilman Dennis O’Brien, “and we still don’t have a comprehensive plan.”

“Every day that there’s not a comprehensive strategy,” he said, “the firefighters and the community at large are at risk.”

O’Brien introduced a bill on Thursday that he hopes will take steps to reduce firefighter and first responder accidents while working inside large and vacant buildings.

The idea is to identify, inspect, mark and seal buildings that present hazards to firefighters, first responders and the general public.

He called for city officials to amend the fire code to establish a task force to take inventory of vacant or abandoned buildings within the city and compile them into a searchable database.

O’Brien said the city contains about 35,000 vacant buildings.

“In every industrial city,” he said, “these present the most real and present danger.”

O’Brien said in every other jurisdiction, whenever there is a fire, the fire department instantly has an investigation. A report follows, and then a grand jury investigation follows if necessary.

“That doesn’t happen here, and it should happen here,” he said.

Joe Schulle, president of firefighters’ union Local 22, said since Neary and Sweeney died, the fire department has not addressed training initiatives regarding collapsed buildings.

“The reality of the Philadelphia Fire Department is that this incident could happen again tomorrow,” Schulle said.

Diane Neary, the widow of Lt. Neary, said when she revisits the site of the deadly fire, she can’t escape the image of the emptiness of the big, vacant city block.

“That vacant block represented to me the vacantness in my life, in my heart,” she said.

She said she prays the city will approve the 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 added.

Toward the back, Marian Sweeney, Daniel’s mother, stood quietly and watched alongside her husband, Dave, wiping glassy eyes.

“If it’s about Danny,” Marian said, “I’m there.”

The plan

• Vacant Property Task Force — oversees the inventory
• Vacant Property Inventory — a block-by-block inventory of all the city’s vacant properties
• Vacant Property Database — a searchable collection of the properties
• Inspection Team — inspects the buildings and enforce violations.

____________________

Follow Tommy Rowan on Twitter: @tommyrowan

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Twitter: @metrophilly

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Facebook: Metro Philadelphia



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Actor Tracy Morgan wasn't wearing seatbelt in June…

By Jonathan Stempel(Reuters) - Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and others in his limousine were not wearing seat belts when their vehicle was struck by…

National

Connected cars: Is AT&T leaving Verizon in its…

By Marina Lopes and Bernie WoodallWASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - Verizon Communications, the No.1 U.S. wireless carrier known for its widespread coverage, is falling behind its biggest…

Local

Grand jury begins hearing evidence in Eric Garner…

A grand jury began hearing evidence Monday relating to the death of Eric Garner while in police custody in July. Garner, 43, of Staten Island,…

Local

Mayor announces plan for solar panels at city…

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the planned installation of 24 new solar panels at city schools on Monday morning. The panels, a $28 million investment,…

Going Out

Taste what Lower Manhattan is cooking at today's…

The Lower Manhattan food scene has changed a lot in three years, which you can taste first hand when the neighborhood's food festival returns. On…

Television

Review: 'Selfie' tries to coast on the charm…

"Selfie" offers cute leads and some good jokes, but focuses too much on a vague distaste for social media.

Movies

Review: Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women & Children' is…

Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children" takes a hysterical and melodramatic look at disconnection in the digital age, turning strong actors into zombies.

Television

TV watch list, Monday, Sept. 29: 'Castle,' 'Mom'…

Tune in for the season premieres of "Castle," "Mom" and "NCIS: Los Angeles."

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

MLB

Joe Girardi not confident David Robertson will return…

David Robertson was as seamless as anyone could be replacing Mariano Rivera as he converted 39 saves, with a 3.08 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony preaches patience with new coach, offense

While star forward Carmelo Anthony said he’s “enthusiastic” and “optimistic” for the upcoming season, he still wants everyone — from within the locker room and…

Education

How to ace your private school interview

Getting ready for a private school interview can be daunting for many, most of whom might never have been in an interview situation before. We’ve…

Education

5 questions parents should ask while visiting private…

It can be hard to know what to look for when searching for a new school for your child. Parents considering several different schools can…

Education

3 ways to save money on college application…

With the average high school student applying to 5 or 6 schools, hefty application and test score fees can add up quickly. We’ve compiled some…

Education

Nap rooms: The latest college campus trend

College is a time filled with new experiences (and lots of schoolwork), leaving little time for students to get a good night’s rest. University of…