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Fire union releases 'smoking gun' in fatal Kensington warehouse blaze

Union officials sparred with the Nutter administration over whether errors in department leadership led two firefighters' deaths.

Officials at firefighters union Local 22 said Thursday that representatives from Mayor Michael Nutter's administration and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers' office were lying when they gave statements to the media last week about the Kensington warehouse blaze that killed firefighters Lt. Daniel Sweeney and Capt. Robert Neary in April.

Specifically, the union took issue with the administration's claim that there was a collapse zone established around the perimeter of the fire. They released two pieces of evidence that constitute what they say is the "smoking gun" proving the firefighters' deaths were due to tactical errors in fire department leadership.

The first was an internal Philadelphia Fire Department training manual that defines a collapse zone and describes when it should be employed:

The second was a previously-unseen photo of the five-alarm fire scene on April 9 showing on the ground Deputy Fire Commissioner John Devlin, who the union demanded resign last week along with Deputy Commissioner Ernest Hargett and Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

There seems to be no rope or caution tape around the burning vacant Thomas Buck Hosiery complex. A firefighter can clearly be seen on the roof of an adjacent furniture store,placing him squarely within the collapse zone that was allegedly established. That furniture store's interior wall eventually crumbled, killing Sweeney and Neary and injuring two others, including Firefighter Francis Cheney, who can also be seen in the picture.

"In multiple photos we've now displayed to both the
public and to the press, there is not one shred of evidence that safety
tape existed on that ground," union spokesman Frank Keel said.

Nutter's communications director Mark McDonald responded with a statement accusing Local 22 of using the tragedy as a political ploy. "The leaders of Local 22 have once again dishonored two fallen heroes, their families and all rank and file firefighters with a pathetic display of falsehoods," he said. "Their real issue is anger over not having a contract."

"What's pathetic is the administration's bold faced lie," Keel retorted. "This has nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with the contract situation. It has everything to do with two dead firefighters and who's responsible for their death, and we are saying unequivocally that the administration at the top of the fire department – which is Ayers and two deputy commissioners, Ernest Hargett and John Devlin – their incompetence contributed a large part to deaths of two firefighters in that fatal warehouse fire."

Keel further stated that pending investigations into the incident by both District Attorney Seth Williams and the National Institute of Safety and Occupational Health is factoring into the city's "cowardly" denial that errors made in fire department leadership.

"Their insistence there was a collapse zone despite everything to the contrary can only lead to one conclusion and that conclusion is that Rob Neary and Dan Sweeney disobeyed direct orders, acted as cowboys and were responsible for their own deaths."