Investigation continues after firefighter death in Fairhill fire and building collapse

Firefighters survey the scene of a building collapse at N. 3rd St and W. Indiana Ave. in the city's Fairhill section where a 27-year veteran firefighter died. (Jonathan Wilson for Billy Penn)

Firefighters survey the scene of a building collapse at N. 3rd St and W. Indiana Ave. in the city's Fairhill section where a 27-year veteran firefighter died. (Jonathan Wilson for Billy Penn)

The Philadelphia Fire Department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating a fire and building collapse Saturday, which killed one firefighter and injured five other responders.

The collapse occurred while the team was handling a fire on the 300 block of W. Indiana Avenue in the Fairhill neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Crews arrived around 2 a.m. Saturday and put the fire under control quickly. They were checking the scene for more fires when the building came down.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. The building, which housed a pizza establishment on the first floor and apartments above, had undergone unpermitted construction in recent years and had incurred code violations related to fire safety, according to officials.

Firefighters leave the scene of a building collapse at N. 3rd St and W. Indiana Ave. in the city’s Fairhill section. (Jonathan Wilson for Billy Penn)

The fire department is mourning the death of Lieutenant Sean Williamson, 51, who served for 27 years, most recently in Hunting Park. It has announced services for Lt. Williamson beginning with viewings next Monday evening, June 26, and Tuesday morning, June 27 prior to the funeral Tuesday – all at Epiphany of Our Lord church in South Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Gov. Wolf has ordered commonwealth flags to be flown at half-staff.

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“We’re absolutely grieving,” said fire commissioner Adam Thiel at a press conference. “We have a lot more crying and processing to do as this unfolds.”

As of Monday, there were still large piles of debris at the intersection of 3rd street and Indiana Avenue, and a section of 3rd street was closed off.

Officials expect they’ll be conducting the investigation on site for about one week.

Several days after the fire and building collapse in Fairhill, there were still large piles of debris at the intersection of 3rd street and Indiana Avenue. (Sammy Caiola / WHYY)

“We’re actually pulling stuff out and trying to figure out what happened,” said fire marshal battalion chief Christopher Beale. “Right now we’re trying to piece leads together.”

Just this month, the fire department announced a federal grant it received to conduct two-day training for all firefighters to assess building conditions and the potential for a collapse while responding to fires.

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“Given the age and the varied histories of many of our buildings here in the City of Philadelphia, building collapse is something we’ve become accustomed to here,” said commissioner Thiel at the press conference.

The fire commissioner said the department hasn’t suffered a tragedy of this type since the death of lieutenant Matthew LeTourneau in a rowhouse blaze in 2018. The second floor of the home collapsed, and LeTourneau was trapped under the rubble.

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