Officials: Kensington factory cited for safety violations

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The developers could face charges Two Philadelphia firefighters, identified as Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, were killed battling a blaze sparked by a massive factory fire in Kensington Monday morning.

Philadelphia city officials have detailed what they say is a long list of safety violations at the Kensington factory that went up in flames Monday, resulting in the deaths of two Philadelphia firefighters.

Action News also talked to residents who say they first started complaining to the city months ago about the building.

"We had raised the alarms 6 months ago and these 2 fire fighters did not have to perish," said Christopher Sawyer of Kensington.

Sawyer is one of a number of residents who last October began to flood the city's 311 hotline with complaints about the vacant former Buck Hosiery factory building.

"People are going in and out of it like crazy," said Sawyer, "And we were afraid months ago that it would blow up during the winter with people starting fires in there."

City officials say L and I sent an inspector who on November 8th citied the owners for failing to seal the property. When nothing was done, they were cited again on December 8th, on January 13th and finally on March 29th.

"We have a very clear policy which we follow," said L and I Commissioner Frances Burns. "Three inspections from our department and we are going to prosecute in court. In this case we followed that policy."

The matter was scheduled for a court hearing in May. But Sawyer points out, "L and I could have sealed the property themselves and just sent the bill to the owner, which was not done."

Burns acknowledges L and I has to power to seal a bldg on its own & bill the owner, but it didn't in part because there was confusion by some of the inspectors as to whether or not the bldg was already sealed.

"Some of our inspectors actually thought it was sealed to trespassers," said Burns.

"At different times the inspection was done, it was sealed, another time it would not be," said Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison. "We'd go back out and we'd cite them again. We have to follow the laws just like everyone else."

Unfortunately this case isn't unique. Through the years some property owners have been notorious for ignoring citations from Philadelphia's Dept. of Licenses & Inspections, much to the frustration of residents.

"It's unbelievable," said Sawyer. "The system is not working."

Officials have identified the owners as Nahman, Yechial & Michael Lichtenstein of Brooklyn, New York. Officials say they owed over $100 thousand in fines & back taxes.

Through York Street Development & YML Properties, the company is also connected to 34 other properties in Philadelphia.

Their lawyer in a statement calls the fire disaster "an unspeakable tragedy," that they send their condolences and heartfelt prayers to the fallen firefighters families and that they are cooperating with authorities in the investigation.

The statement makes no mention of the allegations being made by the city. The owners could be facing criminal charges if investigators determine there is evidence of criminal negligence and/or risking a catastrophe.

"I think we have to look at whether or not in certain instances is something so negligent that it amounts to criminal negligence. And if that's the situation we have to address then we'll go forward from there," said Gillison.

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philadelphia, kensington, fire, local/state, dann cuellar
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