Northeast Times

Debris finally cleared from site of January house fire

A fire ripped through this rowhome on Ru­an Street in Frank­ford in Janu­ary.

A Frank­ford house made un­in­hab­it­able by a fire was sealed up by the city on Ju­ly 5, and debris from the build­ing was bagged up and stacked on the nar­row pave­ment out­side un­til it was col­lec­ted a couple weeks later.

The fire on the 1900 block of Ru­an St. was in mid-Janu­ary. So why did it take nearly six months for the city to act?

There is a time frame for such work to be com­pleted, but there are ways that can get stretched. What helps keep things mov­ing, however, is some well-dir­ec­ted grip­ing.

So, skip­ping ahead to the mor­al of this story: Don’t hes­it­ate to call in a prob­lem; the people who could do something might not know about it un­less some­body tells them. Or re­minds them.

Brid­get Collins-Gre­en­wald, deputy city man­aging dir­ect­or, said the Ru­an Street prop­erty was cleaned out and boarded up by staffers in the city’s Clean & Seal unit, who, she said, should have got­ten rid of the debris after their work on the build­ing was com­pleted.

A week later, however, that debris was still out on the pave­ment. Collins-Gre­en­wald took care of that. A re­port­er checked on the prop­erty on Ju­ly 20; no trash was out­side. A neigh­bor said it was re­moved Ju­ly 19.

A CLEAR PRO­CESS

Ac­cord­ing to Collins-Gre­en­wald, the pro­ced­ure to have a prop­erty cleaned and sealed is sup­posed to work this way:

A ser­vice re­quest comes through the city’s 311 sys­tem to the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions.

L&I has 45 days (a month and a half) to an­swer a prop­erty-main­ten­ance com­plaint.

L&I will is­sue vi­ol­a­tions and give the own­er 35 days to com­ply (more than an­oth­er month.)

After 35 days, an L&I in­spect­or will look over the prop­erty.

If the prop­erty has not been cleaned up and sealed by the own­er, the case will be sent to the Clean & Seal unit, which usu­ally will do the work with­in 18 days.

Collins-Gre­en­wald’s de­scrip­tion of the clean-and-seal pro­cess shows that it all should take little more than three months.

So, it’s im­port­ant to get the ball rolling as soon as a prob­lem prop­erty is spot­ted.

“I ad­vise every­one to use the 311 sys­tem,” Collins-Gre­en­wald said in an e-mail to the North­east Times. “L&I does do pro­act­ive in­spec­tions in cer­tain areas (e.g. school in­spec­tions, busi­ness sur­veys of com­mer­cial cor­ridors), but the most ef­fect­ive way to get an in­spec­tion is to call 311.”

EYE­WIT­NESS TO DANGER

Mi­chael Maen­ner, a deputy L&I com­mis­sion­er, said a de­part­ment in­spect­or vis­ited the prop­erty the night of the fire and de­clared the build­ing un­safe.

But that three-month clock doesn’t start tick­ing im­me­di­ately after the fire. The city gives the own­er of a prop­erty in­volved in a fire a little lee­way.

“If there is a fire, we try to give people time to get their in­sur­ance,” Maen­ner said.

Ul­ti­mately, however, the own­er is re­spons­ible for the prop­erty, he ad­ded.

No­tices were sent to the own­er, but the own­er’s ad­dress is the same as the ad­dress of the build­ing L&I said was not safe. Nobody was home. The ex­pect­a­tion is that the no­tice would be for­war­ded, Maen­ner said.

He said that, since no re­pairs were made, the prop­erty was re­ferred to the Clean & Seal unit on May 20, a little more than four months after the fire. Al­though the unit is sup­posed to get to the prop­erty with­in 18 days, the unit is very busy this time of year, Maen­ner said, and the real time is about 25 busi­ness days — or five weeks. In this case, it was more than six.

The debris wasn’t picked up im­me­di­ately after the unit did its work be­cause a trash com­pact­or broke down, Maen­ner said.

Maen­ner said the av­er­age cost of the unit’s work is about $2,300. A li­en will be put on the prop­erty, and the mat­ter will be turned over to the city Law De­part­ment for col­lec­tion, he ad­ded.

There already is a li­en on the prop­erty — for non-pay­ment of taxes in 2010. Ac­cord­ing to the city’s on­line re­cords, more than $1,300 is owed in back taxes, in­terest and pen­al­ties.

GRIPE EARLY, GRIPE OF­TEN

Pete Specos, the Frank­ford Civic As­so­ci­ation’s zon­ing of­ficer, said re­ports of prob­lem prop­er­ties should be made early — and of­ten.

In a phone in­ter­view last week, he said he knows he and oth­er neigh­bors began re­port­ing the burned-out prop­erty to city agen­cies, in­clud­ing the city’s 311 sys­tem, with­in a few weeks of the Jan. 16 fire. He said he called sev­er­al times.

Debris from the fire was out on the pave­ment for months, said Al Rose, a mem­ber of the civic as­so­ci­ation’s board, who lives nearby.

The fire had af­fected sev­er­al prop­er­ties on the 1900 block of Ru­an St. It began, Ex­ec­ut­ive Fire Chief Daniel Wil­li­ams said at the time, in per­son­al items that had been piled on a porch.

A neigh­bor said a res­id­ent of the block had been evicted and she had stored her pos­ses­sions — cloth­ing and fur­niture — on the porches of nearby homes. That, Wil­li­ams had said, was not leg­al, for the ob­vi­ous reas­on that it was a fire haz­ard.

Emma Turn­er, who lived nearby, in Janu­ary said the fire quickly spread through the cloth­ing on one porch. The fire dam­aged sev­er­al homes and three cars, she said. The Red Cross sheltered Turn­er, her fam­ily and oth­er Ru­an Street res­id­ents. ••

Con­tact John Loftus at 215-354-3110 or at jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus