Philly fire official pressured to alter LODD report

Deputy Chief Rich Davison, the author of the report, said redactions were asked because some statements could hurt the city

The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — A day after an internal presentation of a Philadelphia Fire Department critique detailing errors and delays in the December blaze that killed Firefighter Joyce Craig, the report's author wrote in an official department log that he was being pressured to redact portions of his work.

Deputy Chief Rich Davison, the author of the report, wrote that Deputy Commissioner Jesse Wilson - the department's second-in-command - had asked for redactions and explained his request with the suggestion that "some statements in the critique could hurt the city," according to a copy of the entry obtained by The Inquirer.

Courtesy photo

The critique, which Davison was assigned to conduct, identified tactical errors and communication failures at the scene on the night Craig was killed, and concluded that they spoke to "real training deficiencies within the Philadelphia Fire Department."

In Davison's March 4 entry in his division logbook - where he is mandated to record significant events of the day - Davison wrote that he "respectfully refused" the deputy commissioner's request to alter his findings. The entry did not specify what the statements in question were.

Executive Fire Chief Clifford Gilliam, a department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that nothing from the report had been redacted.

Davison declined to comment.

Rather than asking Davison to remove anything, Gilliam said, Wilson had called Davison to "discuss the content and method used to collect information contained in the critique."

Gilliam said Wilson was concerned that Davison had collected questionnaires instead of written statements to conduct his investigation.

"Deputy Commissioner Wilson counseled Davison to ensure all of the information contained within the document was accurate," Gilliam wrote.

Gilliam said Wilson never used the word redact during the conversation.

Although Fire Department officials have called Davison's report a first step in a larger investigation, Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said earlier this month that as a result of the report's findings, the department would add more training for its members. Officials have promised that a more thorough report on the fire is forthcoming.

Joe Schulle, president of the Local 22 Philadelphia Fire Fighters' and Paramedics Union, agreed that the report is incomplete, but for other reasons. Schulle said the department had not given Davison the information he needs to complete a full report, including radio transmissions from commanders on the scene.

Schulle called the department's response "disingenuous" and said that the intent behind Davison's logbook entry was clear.

"Chief Davison is a smart, educated man who knows what the word redact means," he said.

Schulle said the entry in the logbook - and the department's reaction to it - raises disturbing questions about its investigation of the incident.

"If [Wilson] was willing to ask Chief Davison to alter the report, did he speak to any other [department] members that were giving interviews, and did he ask them to modify their statements?" Schulle said. "The real concern for me is, do we want to get to the bottom of what happened, or do we want to just protect the city? And based on the [logbook entry], it appears our main goal here is to protect the administration."

Gilliam said the department had not counseled any of its members regarding what to say to investigators about the fire.

Besides the department's own investigation, the Fire Marshal's Office and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the CDC, will also issue reports.

Craig, who was killed in a West Oak Lane basement fire Dec. 9, was the department's first female firefighter to die in the line of duty.

Davison's report on the night of the fire at 1655 Middleton St. identified delayed responses and tactical errors - poor communication, late and lost ladder companies, and confusion at the scene.

Accounts from a firefighter on the scene, department sources, and radio records from the night of the fire show that Craig's Mayday alarm sounded for 18 minutes before she was pulled from the house, and that she was found by chance.

Those accounts also suggest a significant amount of time elapsed before commanders realized Craig was unaccounted for.

The report also identified what appeared to be poor communication on the scene.

"It has been repeatedly documented that not knowing who is actively operating on the fire ground, what they are doing, and where they are doing it is contributing to firefighter deaths," Davison wrote.

In his report, Davison also stressed a need for "back-to-basics" training for the department's firefighters, including Mayday response training for officers.

Davison wrote that firefighters need to be trained in how to fight basement fires and how to properly ventilate a house during a fire, a crucial tactical skill that can ease smoky conditions inside a house and help other firefighters navigate the building.

Copyright 2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer
All Rights Reserved

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