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Female Philly firefighter killed battling house fire

Joyce Craig-Lewis, a 36-year-old mother of two and an 11-year veteran, was part of the first company deployed to the basement fire


Courtesy photo

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia firefighter died early Tuesday after getting trapped in the basement of a burning row home, becoming the first female member of the department killed in the line of duty.

Joyce Craig-Lewis, a 36-year-old mother of two and an 11-year veteran of the department, was part of the first company deployed to a fire in the basement of the home in the city’s West Oak Lane neighborhood at about 3 a.m. Tuesday, fire commissioner Derrick Sawyer said.

Sawyer said Craig-Lewis became trapped amid chimney-like conditions — with smoke and heat billowing toward firefighters — as commanders were changing tactics and ordering the company to withdraw.

Firefighters pulled Craig-Lewis from the home and paramedics rushed her to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. An elderly woman was rescued from another part of the home.

Craig-Lewis’ equipment has been preserved for a pending investigation, Sawyer said.

Mayor Michael Nutter called it “a tremendous loss.”

A procession of fire apparatus led an ambulance with Craig-Lewis’s body down the closed lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway to the city medical examiner’s office. Black bunting was hung from firehouses.

Craig-Lewis is survived by a 16-year-old son and a 16-month-old daughter, Nutter said.

Sawyer and Nutter praised the Philadelphia native’s strong work ethic and the pride she took in working in the busiest engine companies, most recently Engine 64 in the city’s Lawncrest neighborhood.

“Very, very good firefighter,” Sawyer said.

More than 40 Philadelphia firefighters have been killed in the line of duty since 1943, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. The last was Capt. Michael Goodwin, on April 6, 2013.

The 53-year-old Goodwin died in a roof collapse while battling a fire in a three-story building in the city’s Queen Village section.

Sawyer said he set a goal when he became commissioner in June that the department would never lose a member on his watch.

“I’ve already failed in one of my goals,” a somber Sawyer said.

Women account for relatively few firefighter deaths in national statistics — 29 of the 1,059 on-duty deaths recorded by the U.S. Fire Administration between 2003 and 2012 — in part because they are still vastly outnumbered by men on department rosters.

In Philadelphia, about 150 of the city’s 2,100 firefighters are women. In Houston, where there were about 100 women last year in a department of 4,000, officials tailored their recruiting to increase female enrollment.

Anne McCormick Sullivan, part of that new wave, and three male firefighters were killed when a roof collapsed during a five-alarm motel fire on May 31, 2013, just a month after she graduated from the academy. The 24-year-old was the city’s first female firefighter killed in the line of duty.

In October, Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, volunteer firefighter Christi Rodgers, 26, collapsed and died while responding to a call.

“During the moment, we didn’t notice that we were all females,” Firefighter Stover said. “We just looked at each other as our crew for the night”
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