Three Philadelphia fire companies that closed in 2009 will reopen thanks to a $22.4 million federal grant, following a tragic fire that killed 12 people, including nine children. With the award, all seven companies closed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter will have reopened.
The closures – which Nutter said were necessary due to financial strains on the city – put an undue burden on the department and hampered service response, according to Philadelphia Local 22 President Mike Bresnan. A 2019 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant allowed for the reopening of Engine 1, Engine 8, Engine 14, and Engine 39. But that did not stop the tragic events of Jan. 5, 2022.
On that day, a rowhouse in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood was quickly engulfed after a child accidentally set fire to a Christmas tree. The building lacked a fire escape, and its only working smoke alarm was located in the basement.
General President Edward Kelly offered Bresnan the full weight of the IAFF following the fire.
“I told him we really needed to get Ladder 1 company back open, which would have been the first due company,” said Bresnan. “We will never know for sure, but I believe if Ladder 1 had been available, we would have made more saves that day.”
“Not long after that, the General President called me back, saying that I was going to get a call from President Joe Biden,” he said. During the call, Biden pledged to use his influence to free up federal dollars through the SAFER grant program.
Reopening the companies has also been a priority of Mayor Jim Kenney and Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel. The grant will be used to hire, train, and pay 72 fire fighter/EMTs to staff the reopened companies for three years. Personnel costs will be paid by the city after that.
“The most important thing we bring to a fire isn’t ladders or water, it is fire fighters,” said Kelly, who visited Philadelphia on the first anniversary of the Fairmount fire. “Having more adequately trained and properly equipped fire fighters on scene quickly will make the citizens of Philadelphia safer and better protected.”