The five-alarm fire that swept through a long-abandoned factory, multiple houses, and a furniture store claimed the lives of Lieutenant Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney and injured two more, reports ABC 6 Action News. The fire started in the Thomas Buck Hosiery Factory, which has been abandoned since the 1970s, and quickly spread to all six floors.
The fire was under control by 5:21am, but the flames had spread to surrounding buildings. One of the buildings, a furniture store, collapsed, trapping five of the men. One escaped unharmed, while two died and two others required treatment at a local hospital.
The word emerging from the fire department is that this tragedy may have been completely avoidable. The factory had recently been cited four times for safety violations, including not sealing up an abandoned and unsafe building, and was set to have a court date on the matter in the near future.
The firefighters are calling for the district attorney’s office to investigate possible criminal negligence charges for the owners, who had ignored the previous citations and requests from the city to seal up the unsafe building.
In addition to criminal proceedings, civil proceedings are a possibility as well. Under the theory of premises liability, a landlord or building owner has the duty to keep the property reasonably safe for those who enter the property legally. Here, the building was apparently kept in an unsafe condition, as documented repeatedly by the code violations.
Property owners are required to correct known dangers. If the cause of the fire can be tied to the unsafe condition of the property, such as wiring defects, or if it can be tied to the failure to seal the property as requested by the City of Philadelphia, such as a homeless person accidentally setting fire to the building, then the property owners might just be liable.
This would not be the first time civil suits were brought against a building owner for the death of firefighters, nor would it be the first time criminal charges were brought, if that happens. Either way, nothing is going to make up for the seemingly preventable deaths of 60-year-old Lieutenant Robert Neary and 25-year-old Firefighter Daniel Sweeney.