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First female Philadelphia firefighter to die in line of duty a mother of two

Joyce Craig-Lewis became trapped in basement fighting a house fire in West Oak Lane early Tuesday morning.

Philadelphia’s first female firefighter to die in the line of duty was the mother of two and an 11-year veteran, officials said Tuesday.

Joyce Craig-Lewis, 36, died early Tuesday morning from injuries suffered fighting a one-alarm basement fire in West Oak Lane.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, who knew Craig-Lewis personally described her as a “firefighter’s firefighter.”

"Everybody's heartbroken," Sawyer said. "I know that she was a hard worker."

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Craig-Lewis was married, but currently separated from her husband. She is survived by her 16-month-old daughter, Laylani Lewis, and 16-year-old son, Mehki Donte Green.

Craig-Lewis was part of the first team that entered the row home on the 1600 block of Middleton Street, which contained a frail and elderly woman. Craig-Lewis headed toward the basement to stave off the fire, which allowed her fellow fighters to rescue the elderly woman, Sawyer said.

Once the woman was obtained, Sawyer said, the commanding officer on scene pulled the firefighters out. After the crew returned, the commanding officer realized that Craig-Lewis was not among them.

The group went back into the home and found Craig-Lewis in the basement, but couldn't get her out before she died.

Sawyer said the most difficult aspect of a basement fire is the steps. With heat rising and low visibility, running blind down steps into a basement is "like running down into a chimney," Sawyer said.

The fire is under investigation by the Fire Marshal's office, Sawyer said.

Sawyer said he's not sure whether or not her personal safety device, which sets off a loud siren, was triggered or malfunctioned. While Joe Schulle, president of the Firefighter's Local 22, said he can neither confirm nor deny the device was triggered or malfunctioned, it is his understanding that Craig-Lewis did make a distress call from the basement at some point.

"She was well respected and well liked," Schulle said. "She is going to be missed."

Craig-Lewis, a graduate from Murrell Dobbins Career & Technical Education High School, went on to earn her certification as an EMT before joining the fire department in 2003. She began her career with Engine 9 and Ladder 21 in Germantown before moving to Engine 45 in North Philadelphia, one of the busiest in the city. She then transferred to Engine 64 in Lawncrest.

On Tuesday morning Craig-Lewis was filling in with Engine 73.

Craig-Lewis is the 352nd firefighter to die in the line of duty, but the first woman. The last firefighter to die in the line of duty was Capt. Michael Goodwin, who died on April 6, 2013 after he fell off a roof on Fabric Row in Queen Village.

Mayor Michael Nutter said 150 women currently serve in the department, which includes more than 2,000 members.

 
 
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