PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Two firefighters who were battling a massive blaze at an abandoned warehouse Monday were killed when an adjacent furniture store they were inspecting collapsed, burying them in a pile of debris, authorities said.
It took about two hours to extract the bodies of Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25, because of all the debris, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said at a news conference. Two other firefighters were rescued and taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of these two firefighters," Mayor Michael Nutter said. "It just hurts a great, great deal."
The blaze in the city's Kensington section started around 3:15 a.m. and quickly spread. Dozens of nearby homes were evacuated and the firefighters were trying to make sure that the blaze was out at the furniture store when a wall and roof collapsed, Ayers said.
"They were actually going back in to check and ensure that the fire was out," the commissioner said, adding that crews got to them as quickly as they could but that the rescue effort was arduous. "It's getting to them as fast as possible."
Both firefighters were respected members of the department and had been commended for a long list of rescues over the years.
Neary, a 37-year veteran of the department, served in the Army reserves from 1972 to 1982 and worked as a city police officer before joining the fire department. He is survived by his wife, two grown sons and a grown daughter.
Sweeney, who was single, is survived by his parents. His father is recently retired fire Capt. David Sweeney.
The warehouse where the fire started had been under investigation by the city for about two years, said Everett Gillison, Nutter's chief of staff.
Neighbors have been complaining about people stealing pipes and other things from the site, as well as people sleeping there. It appeared the site was not properly sealed off.
As the early-morning fire spread from the warehouse, flames poured from the windows as crews doused water on it from all sides. Hot embers from the main fire blew to nearby structures.