Firefighters’ union vs. Nutter and Ayers

Loc­al 22, the uni­on that rep­res­ents the city's fire­fight­ers, said they are are seek­ing justice in the wake of the April 9 Bucks Ho­siery fire.

The fire­fight­ers’ uni­on, Loc­al 22, said May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter and Fire Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers “lied” last week to pro­tect them­selves as the uni­on pushes to prove claims that mis­takes were made in the fire de­part­ment’s re­sponse to the fatal East Kens­ing­ton ware­house fire on April 9.

“Com­mis­sion­er Ay­ers lied to cov­er his own butt and [May­or Mi­chael] Nut­ter lied to pro­tect his staff,” said Frank Keel, spokes­per­son for Loc­al 22 in a meet­ing with re­port­ers Thursday, May 30.

The may­or’s of­fice, in a state­ment sent to press out­lets last week, re­buffed the uni­on’s claims, re­stat­ing that a “col­lapse zone” safety meas­ure was, in fact, es­tab­lished and sug­gest­ing in­stead that the uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ives had an ul­teri­or motive in their dis­cus­sion of the events of April 9.

At the May 30 meet­ing in front of City Hall, Keel noted that uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ives dis­puted the fire de­part­ment’s claims that a “col­lapse zone” was ever es­tab­lished around the peri­met­er of the Buck Ho­siery build­ing, at York and Jasper streets in Kens­ing­ton, when it burned to the ground last month, tak­ing the lives of Lieu­ten­ant Robert Neary and fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney.

“The three of them failed, and they failed fatally,” Keel said, point­ing a fin­ger at Ay­ers and deputy com­mis­sion­ers John Devlin and Ern­est Har­gett.

On Thursday, uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ives presen­ted a new photo that pur­portedly shows Devlin, act­ing in­cid­ent com­mand­er that even­ing, stand­ing well with­in the area where, they said, a col­lapse zone should have been set up.

As Mike Bresnan, re­cord­ing sec­ret­ary for Loc­al 22, poin­ted out, there are no vis­ible mark­ings in areas sur­round­ing the build­ing serving as evid­ence of a col­lapse zone.

“A col­lapse zone should be about fifty to a hun­dred feet be­hind where they are stand­ing now,” Bresnan said, point­ing to the im­age of Devlin.

“And they are say­ing there was a col­lapse zone set up? Ri­dicu­lous.”

Ac­cord­ing to a fire ser­vice train­ing manu­al uni­on of­fi­cials presen­ted last week, a col­lapse zone is re­quired as the first of three con­cent­ric safety zones that should be es­tab­lished by the in­cid­ent com­mand­er to provide an “ad­equate level of safety and ac­count­ab­il­ity for all par­ti­cipants at the in­cid­ent.”

The first zone the manu­al calls for is a col­lapse zone, which ac­cord­ing to Bresnan, should be a peri­met­er of about one and a half that of the height of the walls.

The manu­al calls for this zone to be es­tab­lished with ban­ner tape or rope.

“Every­one should re­main out­side of this area,” reads the manu­al.

A second zone out­side of that should then be made to give fire per­son­nel an area to work, and bey­ond that is a third zone for me­dia and spec­tat­ors.

Bresnan said con­trary to claims made by fire of­fi­cials, in no pho­tos of that even­ing is there any evid­ence of an ini­tial col­lapse zone.

“Nobody should be in that zone,” he said. “Every photo we have shows no col­lapse zone was es­tab­lished.”

Fur­ther, Bresnan said that fire­fight­ers should have not only not been in the col­lapse zone, but at no time should any fire­fight­er have entered the build­ing as there were no people in need of res­cue in­side.

“What was in there? That build­ing stored $99 mat­tresses. Was there any­thing to save in there?” he asked a gathered crowd.

Uni­on mem­bers then claimed that if the fallen fire­fight­ers had gone in­to an es­tab­lished col­lapse zone, as fire de­part­ment of­fi­cials claim ex­is­ted, then Neary and Sweeney were reck­lessly en­dan­ger­ing their own lives.

“That means they [fallen fire­fight­ers Neary and Sweeney] ac­ted as cow­boys and dis­reg­arded their own lives,” Keel said. “We dare them, dare them, to sug­gest that.”

The state­ment from the may­or’s of­fice read:

“The lead­ers of Loc­al 22 have once again dis­honored two fallen her­oes. Their real is­sue is an­ger over not hav­ing a con­tract. We’ve made it very clear that there was a col­lapse zone, that a top flight com­mand struc­ture was in place and that safety of­ficers were on the scene.”

Keel said the uni­on is push­ing for an ex­ped­ited study of the in­cid­ent by the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute for Oc­cu­pa­tion­al Safety and Health, which is cur­rently un­der­way but is ex­pec­ted to take at least sev­er­al months.

“Right now, we just want justice,” Keel said. “The cur­rent lead­er­ship of the fire de­part­ment has been a fail­ure.”

Loc­al 22 has sub­mit­ted the pho­to­graphs they presen­ted last week to NIOSH in hopes of speed­ing up the study.

Star staff re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­

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