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August 21, 2014, 2:00 pm

Council to probe firefighter deaths

Labor committee to hold fire safety hearings


As its spring session winds down, City Council on Thursday tackled a variety of issues from authorizing hearings on the recent deaths of two firefighters to approving plans for a trash-to-energy plant.

Council met to begin clearing its calendar as it prepares to recess for the summer. As it dealt with a number of items, a much larger one — the Added Value Initiative property assessment — was also on the agenda Thursday. The last scheduled meeting for this session is June 21.

Members unanimously agreed that the Labor Committee should hold fire safety and administration hearings in the wake of the deaths of firefighters Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, who died in April while battling a warehouse fire in Kensington.

“The hearings are intended to help prevent future tragedies,” said Councilman Jim Kenney, who proposed the hearings.

“It’s not necessarily to cast blame on anyone, but to review all the information … so we can prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” said Kenney.

Neary and Sweeney, both members of Engine 10, Ladder 7, died April 9 while battling a five-alarm fire at an abandoned warehouse at York and Jasper streets.

They were the first firefighters to die in the line of duty in the city in six years.

Also at Thursday’s Council meeting, opposition emerged to plans to build a plant that will produce energy in the form of fuel pellets made from the city’s garbage.

Citing concerns that the plant would simply burn more trash than it would turn into fuel pellets, Brady Russell, with Clear Water Action, asked Council to delay a vote for two months.

“The contracts were never reviewed by the solid waste review committee,” Russell said, reeling off a list of concerns that centered on fears that the plant would burn most of the waste. “From the green perspective, it’s only greener if the green you’re talking about is money.”

The cost to incinerate is less that landfilling, he said, but more harmful to the environment.

“In terms of global warming, it does more harm on balance,” Russell said.

The local Sierra Club also objected to plans for the plant.

Plans are to build the $22 million plant this summer in the Northeast. It will harvest recyclables from the city’s 143,000 tons of trash, then turn the remaining solids into fuel pellets that can replace coal at chemical manufacturing plants, cement kilns and electric generation plants.

Despite the protest, Council approved two bills giving contracts worth $256 million over the next four years to Waste Management and Covanta 4 Recovery for hauling and getting rid of the city’s trash. According to Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson, the two contracts would save the city about $7 million a year. In addition, she projected that the plant would generate about $1.25 million annually in tax revenue.

Council also heard from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who asked members to approve raises for poll workers. Council authorized hearings on how poll workers are paid.

Singer told Council that Philadelphia’s polls workers’ pay was equal to those in Memphis. She asked that Council raise their pay to prevailing wage.

“Our poll workers are defending democracy,” she said. “We ask a lot of them, and they have an added responsibility — in November they will have to enforce the voter ID law … It’s a big election. And, we expect there will be a lot attention on Philadelphia and how we conduct our elections.”


Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .