Fire escapes are supposed to save lives, but often these old, dilapidated – and, in Philadelphia, uninspected – structures actually result in severe injuries and loss of life.
That was the case in January 2014, when a fire escape landing collapsed at a Center City apartment, sending three young adults hurtling about 40 feet to the pavement below. Two were injured and a 22-year-old man, Albert Suh, was killed.
A WPVI-6 Action News report broadcast last night noted that almost a year and a half after the tragic accident and one year after a City Council committee hearing into the incident, Philadelphia still has no regulatory requirement that fire escapes undergo inspections.
The report included first-time interviews with a victim of the collapse and Suh’s brother, Min. Also appearing was Shanin Specter, an attorney with Kline & Specter, PC, who is representing the Suh family in a lawsuit against the owner of the building where the landing collapsed.
"It was like the loudest rumbling crash I had ever heard," said Laura O'Brien, who broke her back in the fall. It was her first time standing on the balcony with her two roommates, during a party they threw for a friend's birthday. O’Brien is also represented by Specter.
Action News noted that there are no requirements for inspecting emergency fire escapes in Philadelphia, no matter the age of the structures, even some that are 50 years old.
At an April 2014 committee hearing, Councilman Curtis Jones noted: "It is a statement to me that our fire professionals won't even use fire escapes because of the condition or the varying condition they may be in." Others on Council also decried the lack of inspections.
And yet, nothing has been done to date.
Said Specter on the television report: "These are accidents waiting to happen. They have happened before this incident occurred in other parts of the city and they will happen again.”
Kline & Specter attorney Dominic Guerrini testified at that Council committee hearing and questioned why Philadelphia has not adopted the current 2012 International Fire Code, which mandates inspections be conducted every five years.
"This is something that needs to be addressed and addressed now," Specter told Action News.
The TV report quoted depositions in the civil action which revealed that the fire escape on 22nd and Locust streets which claimed Albert Suh’s life had not been inspected in at least 12 years.
In an interview with Jones, the councilman agreed the structures should be inspected every five years and he made a solemn pledge. “ … We are going to do something so it doesn't happen again," he said.