Criminal prosecution possible in firefighter deaths

Two Philadelphia firefighters are dead, and three others have been injured as the result of a five-alarm fire early Monday morning in the Kensington neighborhood. The six-story warehouse where the fire began has been a problem before.

The five-alarm fire at 1817 E. York St. spurred a smaller fire at a furniture store on Kensington Avenue. That burning building collapsed, killing Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25.

The owners of the warehouse have been cited three times since November for failing to maintain the property and neglecting to keep it clean and sealed, city officials said Monday afternoon. The case had been headed to court.

The city was following policy, according to Everett Gillison, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff.

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“After you get three strikes in this, we take action,” he said. “And you will find that we have taken action in this case.”

Rich Negrin, city managing director, was upset that the owner took no action to address the repeated violations.

“One violation was too many, here there were three and it was confirmed by a fourth,” he said.

Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Fran Burns says the owner of the warehouse was made aware of the problems.

“The owner received notice of these violations. It’s incumbent of the owner upon first notice of violation to maintain and secure their property,” Burns said. “You do not need the city of Philadelphia to tell you how to be a responsible property owner in this city.”

Gillison says the owner of the property is known, and the case could result in criminal action.

“The mayor has asked me to contact the district attorney and said if and when we can find, if we can prove, there is negligence in how owners deal with their buildings, then we need to refer it to District Attorney Seth Williams to see whether this is risking a catastrophe and whether this amounts to criminal negligence,” Gillison said.

The attorney for the owner of the warehouse property declined to comment on the matter.

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