PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel was emotional at a press conference on Saturday after a a city firefighter was killed and five others were injured after a building collapsed in Fairhill. Lt. Sean Williamson, 51, died in the building collapse after being trapped in the rubble.
Thiel said the West Indiana Avenue collapse is the latest incident in what has been a tragic year for the Philadelphia Fire Department.
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“Due to the scale of the collapse and Lt. Williamson’s location within the structure, we were unable to save him,” Thiel said. “And believe me, for our members, this is just another tragic event in a very tragic year.”
Earlier in 2022, a house fire in Fairmount killed 12 people, including nine children. It was the Philadelphia’s deadliest fire in at least a century.
In April, a father and his three sons died in a house fire in Kensington. The boy’s mother survived after being pushed out the window of the house by her partner.
“The worst thing for any firefighter or any medic, we all swear to save lives and protect property, and whenever we can’t – be it a resident of the city and certainly if it’s the ‘one of our own sisters and brothers, we feel that very deeply,” Thiel said. “This has been a tragic year for the Philadelphia Fire Department. We are just absolutely devastated.
Williamson, a 27-year veteran of the department and former Marine, was recently posted to Scale 18 in the city’s Hunting Park neighborhood. The Lark Bunting is currently draped over the fire station as his colleagues mourn his death and remember his service.
Paramedics pronounced him dead about 3 hours after the structure fell.
Thiel said Williamson was one of the most experienced lieutenants in the department. He leaves behind his mother and son.
“I’m almost speechless,” Thiel said. “I haven’t finished crying but I already cried once.”
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“Today is a heartbreaking day for our city,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.
Five other people were rescued from the rubble.
Firefighters Robert Brennan Jr. and Dennis Daly are in critical but stable condition. Both are at Temple University Hospital.
Lieutenants Sylvester Burton and Clarence Johnson were both treated and released from Temple. Inspector Thomas Rybakowski was also treated and released.
“So they didn’t all come out at the same time…there were different levels of when they came out,” Deputy Commissioner Craig Murphy said. “So the times may have been at the start of the collapse, some got out, one person jumped from the second floor to avoid getting caught in the collapse, and then the others were systematically extracted and pulled out of the collapse. ‘collapse.”
To honor Williamson’s legacy, Kenney declared that all Philadelphia city flags would fly at half mast for 30 days.
“Tragically we’re no strangers to deaths in service, that doesn’t make it any easier,” Thiel said. “We are absolutely in mourning, we are in mourning, we have a lot more crying and a lot more processing to do as this unfolds and we will move forward honoring Lt. Williamson.”
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CBS3’s Jasmine Payoute contributed to this report.