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Fire commish: Feds' report on firefighter's death gives chance for introspection, action

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said the department has already completed some recommendations in the federal report.

Philadelphia firefighter Joyce Craig had no problem speaking up when she saw that something wasn't right on the job, said her friend and fire academy classmate, Capt. Lisa Forrest.

"She was a game-changer," Forrest said. "She didn't have to have that rank to…be a catalyst for change."

On Monday, a federal report released on Craig's line-of-duty death in a West Oak Lane rowhouse fire in 2014 made several recommendations to the department. Some, like updating equipment, already have been implemented, and others will be undertaken, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said at a news conference Tuesday at the Fire Administration Building.

"We stand before you today with heavy hearts, focused minds, and eyes forward to honor the life and memory of a fallen hero and those who came before her by embracing this opportunity for introspection and, more importantly, for action," he said, as members of the department's leadership council stood beside him.

And so, Craig – who was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 2015 – continues to be a catalyst for change.

"She was a special individual, and her sacrifice…will contribute to the changes that we have been needing for a long time," said Forrest.

Craig's mother, Carol, said Thiel had briefed the family on the report Monday. She said that the report did a good job of explaining the fire that claimed her daughter's life, but that it brought back painful memories.

"It was quite disturbing," Carol Craig, 67, said. "It was like going all over it again."

Thiel, who became commissioner in 2016, said he agreed with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, which cited several factors in Craig's death. NIOSH said an outdated hose on Craig's self-contained breathing apparatus burned through, causing her to lose a large amount of air quickly. Firefighters also are supposed to stick together in teams of at least two, but Craig became separated from her crew mates and they left the building without her, thinking she already had escaped, the report said. She radioed for help five times, the report said.

Thiel said maintaining contact with fellow firefighters inside a burning building is not always easy or possible.

"You can't see anything in a fire," he said. "This is not a television show."

The federal report said it took 21 minutes for a "Rapid Intervention Team" used for search and rescue to arrive because the team was unfamiliar with the area's streets.

Thiel said that the department already has made several changes recommended in the report, but that making all the changes "will be a long-term effort."

The department is hiring more firefighters, assigning dedicated field-safety officers to all platoons, and pushing more resources to fire scenes earlier, Thiel said. Firefighters will continue to undergo training recommended in the report.

David J. Langsam, one of the attorneys for Craig's estate, for which a lawsuit has been filed against the companies that manufactured her fire-safety gear, said he was pleased by the federal study.

"The motivation [for filing the lawsuit] is to ensure that no other firefighter's family ever has to endure the same tragedy they have had to endure and to try and effect change at the top," Langsam said.

Carol Craig said her daughter's oldest child, Mekhi, is attending Pennsylvania State University and has a job and his own apartment. Joyce Craig's youngest child, Laylani, is now 3, she said.

Langsam said Craig, 37, was working overtime the night she died so she could save up for her children's Christmas presents that year.

Forrest texted with Craig the evening before the early-morning fire that claimed her friend's life because it was the anniversary of the day they started the fire academy together.

"She said how proud of me she was and ... I told her, 'You're next [to be promoted]," Forrest recalled. "I didn't know her promotion would be because she would die in the line of duty."