Firefighter killed in building collapse in North Philly

A Philadelphia firefighter was killed and four others were injured in an early morning building collapse that devastated the fire department and rocked a neighborhood.

A city building inspector was also injured in the collapse of the Fairhill section of town, which followed a fire at a popular pizzeria.

The firefighter who was killed was not immediately identified, pending notification from the family, but First Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy described them as a 27-year veteran.

“It’s going to be tough for several weeks,” an emotional Murphy said at a news conference just before 8 a.m. near the site of the collapse on the 300 block of West Indiana Avenue in North Philadelphia.

Mayor Jim Kenney posted a brief statement on Twitter saying he was in mourning with members of the fire department, calling the building collapse a “tragic incident”.

Six first responders — five firefighters and an inspector from the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections — were initially trapped in the collapse at 3:24 a.m. The collapse occurred well after firefighters brought the blaze under control .

The five who escaped survived the collapse at different times. One jumped from the building’s second story, Murphy said. All were rushed to Temple University Hospital and are now in stable condition.

The fire marshal is launching a full investigation, Murphy said, but no foul play is suspected at this time.

“You can’t predict that,” Murphy said. “It was just a catastrophic accident that really hurt our department.”

The circumstances were similar to the death of Lt. Matthew LeTourneau, who died Jan. 6, 2018, while battling a fire in a townhouse on the 2200 block of North Colorado Street in North Philadelphia. The second floor collapsed and LeTourneau was trapped under the rubble. When firefighters and paramedics reached him about 30 minutes later, he was dead.

Neighbors said Star Pizza opened five months ago in the three-story corner property at Third Street and West Indiana Avenue.

Half a block from the collapse, Wanda Rivera was awake watching television shortly before 2 a.m. when she heard sirens and trucks rushing towards the pizzeria.

“At first there was just a lot of smoke, so we thought there was a fire,” Rivera said. “They put out the fire and then we saw the firefighters leave. Then they rushed back.

Always first responders covered the blocks around Third and Indiana at 7 a.m., where dozens of firefighters, police and paramedics stood in a nearly motionless crowd after hours of searching through the rubble. The smell of burnt wood still lingered in the morning air.

At 7:19 a.m., the mass of firefighters slowly dispersed rubble, dejected and wiping tears from their eyes as they exchanged hugs. Many were speechless; few words were spoken as the rescue effort appeared to have come to a tragic conclusion.

Patricia Sermarini rushed to the scene when she saw the alert on the Citizens app about the collapse and the trapped first responders.

She said her son-in-law, a firefighter, was on the morning shift. As she made her way to the edge of the taped stage on American Street, she said all she could think of was, “I just need to see it.”

Relief washed over her when she saw her son-in-law approaching the site of the collapse. She said he had been one of the firefighters on the scene to help with the rescue effort – but he had not been injured in the collapse of the building. He was stained with soot and dust, she said, and she immediately hugged him.

Moments later, Sermarini said he saw firefighters pull a body from the rubble.

“It’s so terrible,” she said. “It’s so hard for them. They just want to go home to their families.

The building would have had a pizzeria on the first floor and apartments above. Property records indicate the property was sold in September 2021 for $120,000, shortly before Pizza Star & Seafood opened.

City records say the building failed an inspection in May 2019. At the time, investigators cited issues with the range hood, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and open junction boxes. Those violations were again listed as pending in city records in June 2021, though it’s unclear if investigators have visited the property since it changed hands seven months ago.

The owners of Pizza Star & Seafood could not immediately be reached for comment.

Neighbors said the Lucky Garden Chinese restaurant had operated in the building for about 12 years before the take-out pizza and seafood restaurant.

Herman Soto, Wanda Rivera’s husband, said Star Pizza has a good reputation among neighbors. “It was really good pizza,” Soto said. “The owners are nice people. »

Xavier “Sabi” Rivera said his parents owned the building for years until he sold it in 1996 to 1997. It was a restaurant, he said, with pool tables and an archway.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Writer Anthony R. Wood contributed to this article.

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