Philadelphia fire union chief seeks Biden’s help to reopen firehouses

The two discussed the tragic Fairmount fire that killed 12 people

By: - January 24, 2022 10:16 am

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — The tragic fire in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood that killed 12 people has placed new focus on fire stations that were closed by the city in 2009 to save money. This includes the noted Ladder 1, at 16th and Parrish, which was about a mile from that fire where mostly children died.

“Only God knows if it would have made a difference,” said Mike Bresnan, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 22, the union representing the city’s firefighters and emergency medical technicians. “That (Ladder 1) was one of the better ladder companies in the city,” Bresnan said. “They used to call them the Big Red One, after the First Infantry Division in the U.S. Army.”

So when President Joe Biden called Bresnan shortly after the fire, the union chief took the opportunity to ask about funding to reopen the remaining firehouses. Bresnan joked that he was nervous because the union had endorsed Donald Trump over Biden in the election a year ago. “He didn’t bring it up. When it comes to safety, there is no politics,” Bresnan said.

Bresnan said he and Biden had a few things in common. They are both Catholic and they had both lost young children to tragedy.

“He was concerned about our members and how they were doing and obviously the victims,” Bresnan said. “I told him our members are doing well. We had a couple of younger members … who discovered the victims on the third floor. We are helping them if they have mental health concerns.”

According to Bresnan, Biden said that if there is Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money available to the city, he would see to it that Philadelphia gets it.

In January 2009, Mayor Michael Nutter closed seven engine companies in a bid to save the city money. It was not a popular decision. In fact, a group of firefighters and the families protested against Nutter and disrupted a dedication of a firehouse in Tacony in 2013.

The city reopened four of the engine companies in 2019, thanks in part, to $16.6 million SAFER grant from FEMA, said Kathy Matheson, a fire department spokesperson.

At the time, the city hired 121 firefighters, who were also trained as emergency medical technicians to staff the fire houses. The reopened companies were Engine 1 at Broad and Fitzwater streets in South Philadelphia; Engine 8 at 4th and Arch streets in Old City; Engine 14 at Foulkrod and Darrah streets in Frankford; and Engine 39 at Ridge Avenue and Cinnaminson Stret in Roxborough.

“We are currently putting together another FEMA SAFER grant application in an effort to restore the other three companies; we have not yet decided on an amount to ask for,” Matheson said. In addition to Ladder 1, the Philadelphia Fire Department will try to reopen two other firehouses in Port Richmond and South Philadelphia.

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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