Fire union, City Hall in war of words

Officials at firefighters union Local 22 said Thursday that representatives from Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers’ office were lying when they gave statements to the media last week about the Kensington warehouse blaze that killed firefighters Lt. Daniel Sweeney and Capt. Robert Neary in April.

Specifically, the union took issue with the administration’s claim that there was a collapse zone established around the perimeter of the fire.

Nutter’s communications director Mark McDonald responded with a statement accusing Local 22 of using the incident as a “pathetic” political ploy. “The leaders of Local 22 have once again dishonored two fallen heroes, their families and all rank and file firefighters with a pathetic display of falsehoods,” he said. “Their real issue is anger over not having a contract.”

A Philadelphia Fire Department training manual released by the union Thursday reads, “During an exterior fire attack, three zones should be established. These zones will provide the incident commander an adequate level of safety and accountability, for all participants at the incident. Zone 1 is the immediate collapse zone indicated with banner tape and/or rope. Once this zone is established, everyone should remain outside of this area.”

The union released a previously unseen photo showing Deputy Commissioner John Devlin at the fire scene while a second firefighter stood on the building’s roof. “In multiple photos we’ve now displayed to both the public and to the press, there is not one shred of evidence that safety tape existed on that ground,” union spokesman Frank Keel said.

Pending litigation

Keel said that pending litigation is factoring into the city’s “cowardly” denial that there were tactical errors made in fire department leadership.

“Their insistence there was a collapse zone despite everything to the contrary can only lead to one conclusion, and that conclusion is that Rob Neary and Dan Sweeney disobeyed direct orders, acted as cowboys and were responsible for their own deaths.”

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