In the wake of April’s Buck Hosiery factory fire that left two firefighters dead, the firefighter’s union has filed a complaint against the city to obtain radio transmissions and files from the night of the fire.
The complaint came several weeks after a request was made by the International Association of Firefighters Local 22 chapter, which represents Philly firefighters, for emergency response teams’ records from April 9.
“There was no reply to our requests,” said Local 22 President Bill Gault. “Nothing, not even a no, just no reply whatsoever, which I’m getting very used to with this administration.”
On April 9, a wall collapse killed Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney in the aftermath of the fire at the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery Factory in East Kensington.
In July, Local 22 requested all audio copies of radio transmissions, photographs, videos, reports, or memoranda in the possession of the city regarding the Buck Hosiery Fire, to investigate a possible grievance.
“Basically, I don’t want it to happen again,” Gault said. “Firemen learn from our mistakes… Usually after a fire, we have a meeting – ‘Where were you? How did it go? How could it have gone better?’ We’ve never had one from that [fire].”
Gault has previously said that deaths of Neary and Sweeney were “preventable,” and Local 22 has alleged that a proper collapse zone was not set up on April 9. A collapse zone must be set up outside a burning building at a distance one-and-a-half times the height of the walls, according to protocol.
Neary and Sweeney died after one of the factory’s five-story walls collapsed on a nearby structure that they were examining.
The union’s charge of unfair labor practices was sent to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board on August 22, and made public last week. The complaint also inquires as to Fire Commissioner Llyod Ayers’ whereabouts on April 9 and as to who was overseeing operations that night.
Local 22 previously demanded that Ayers and his top two deputies step down due to their alleged errors during the fire. Ayers has claimed that a proper collapse zone was in fact set up during the fire.
District Attorney Seth Williams has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the fire, although it’s unclear what criminal charges could be pending as a result of the fire. Grand jury proceedings are kept confidential and could last indefinitely.
“The only reason we even confirmed that there was a grand jury was that the Mayor’s office, on the day the fire was happening, the mayor was on TV saying ‘We want a grand jury,’” said Tasha Jamerson, Williams’ spokeswoman. “That we’re even admitting there’s a grand jury is totally out of the norm.”
The office of Mayor Michael Nutter did not respond to requests for comment at press-time. Mayor Nutter’s office has previously denied wrongdoing and stated that a federal labor investigation of the fire is also pending.
Many other Philadelphia buildings are in the condition that the long-vacant Buck Hosiery Factory was in before it burned down, Gault said.
“There’s got to be 2,000 of them buildings in this city,” he said.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.