Market St. Collapse – Collapse Testimony

NOVEMBER 18, 2013

I am Nancy Winkler, mother of Anne Bryan. Thank you for the opportunity to testify this afternoon. We deeply appreciate Council’s work and interest in strengthening public safety by improving the Department of Licenses & Inspections and the way in which it oversees construction and demolition activities in the City of Philadelphia.

The death of our daughter, Anne Bryan, and five other innocent people in the Salvation Army Thrift Store collapse brings this issue before Council. We never thought we would be testifying, but who could ever have expected their 24-year-old child to leave the house one bright sunny June morning and then be killed under the rubble of a collapsed store?

As you consider the proposed legislation before you, and related issues, we appeal to you to remember the disturbing questions we ask every minute of every day in an effort to understand how this tragedy could have occurred in our city.

  • How could L&I have granted a demolition permit in this instance if it did due diligence on those involved?
  • How could L&I have permitted the demolition to continue up to and on June 5th given the fact the site had previously been inspected and cited for violations?
  • How was it possible that a catastrophe could be risked on Market Street in plain view for weeks, of which the City received repeated warnings, and there was no public safety response?
  • How could an excavator – in broad daylight – been allowed to operate on site when the permit application clearly did not call for one given the nature of the demolition project?

We need your help in answering these and other questions about what was clearly an avoidable, preventable building collapse. We know, and you know based on a mountain of evidence released publicly, the most recent of which is contained in the OSHA citations disclosed last Thursday, that this was not a freak accident. It was strictly a case of when that wall would come crashing down. Not if. It was a case of who would be killed. Not if anyone would be killed.

In closing, we welcome you to join us and many others at 22nd and Market Sts. on the evening of December 4th – on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the collapse – for a community memorial prayer vigil. There is mounting support for declaring that site a permanent memorial park and we would very much appreciate City Council’s support.

As you consider reforms, but please do not lose sight of everything that needs to be done to ensure an unprecedented level of construction and demolition oversight to save any additional senseless loss of life.

NOVEMBER 18, 2013

My name is John Bryan. I am Anne Bryan’s father. I am also a licensed structural Professional Engineer.

Philadelphia must not think five months later that we are now immune from another June 5th building collapse disaster. Unless structural reforms are made now, as memory fades vigilance will be relaxed. So we commend Council for holding hearings and considering this package of bills. They contain a number of reforms that, when enacted and diligently enforced, will help prevent another catastrophe like the Salvation Army collapse. However, beyond the prescriptive measures these bills contain, there needs to be clarification of the responsibility of L&I to vet contractors and to insure public safety. It is remarkable that although six people died in an avoidable collapse of which the City was given repeated warnings, nobody in did anything to protect the public safety.

Why was no engineering plan filed on a demolition that included taking down a party wall right next to an operating store that had been for days pelted with construction debris?

The Mayor has created an Independent Investigation Panel of safety experts to evaluate the current L&I practices. We have questions which we hope it will address:

  • Given increased building activity and the large inventory of dilapidated buildings in the city and its’ neighborhoods, what is the appropriate level of staffing, training expertise and budget for L&I in order for it to fully perform its duties including inspections and public safety?
  • How do you create a culture of responsibility within L&I so that there is accountability for safety at the highest levels of the organization?
  • Is the L&I Expediter system necessary and consistent with best safety practices?
  • Does the City Code and the requirements on L&I conform to best safety practices without imposing unnecessary costs on building contractors or the City?
  • Can record keeping at L&I be improved to identify incident patterns and target oversight at those sites and of those operations that are most likely cause injuries or death?
  • Council’s Investigating Committee recommends that L&I inspectors should be trained to inspect in specific areas of expertise rather than conducting general inspections in all areas and specialties. Do the Inspectors currently have the training, the time and the resources to adequately perform their duties?
  • In eagerness to make L&I developer friendly was the responsibility to insure the public safety neglected?

Just as the police commissioner is a law enforcement professional and the fire commissioner a fire fighting professional, the L&I commissioner should be a construction professional in order to insure an intimate knowledge of the industry he is responsible for policing. That is why it is imperative to have the L&I commissioner be a construction professional, and sign off on demolition permits in cases where a demolition could endanger an adjacent occupied building. Additionally, the responsible Deputy Mayor should sign off on ‘high value’ demolition permits. This will serve to remind these individuals frequently of their duty to protect the public safety.

Regarding the independent site safety supervisor: who is ultimately responsible for safety? Is it the Site Safety Supervisor or the Contractor? We would urge that the Independent Investigation Panel examine how to best insure that all the parties are aware of, and have the authority, experience and resources, to perform their duties in this regard. Perhaps in lieu of a site safety supervisor, as part of the permit application a contractor should have to identify and submit qualifications for an experienced and safety trained supervisor who will be in charge on site throughout the job.

Bill 130691 B3307.2 seems to say that in cases where an adjoining property owner denies access for demolition operations and the building targeted for demolition is an imminent danger, the duty to protect his property devolves to the adjoining property owner. How would this be applied in a case such as the June 5th collapse, where the building targeted for demolition only became an imminent danger as a result of the demolition operation itself?

In addition to the reforms contained in the bills currently before Council, we would urge serious consideration be given to the recommendations of the upcoming Independent Investigation Panel. And we hope that you will work with the Administration to provide a budgetary reserve to L&I sufficient to implement the Panel’s recommendations in Fiscal Year 2015.

We appreciate your serious and thoughtful efforts in this matter. We hope that the end result will be not only that we never experience another collapse disaster, but that Philadelphia will become a national leader in construction safety.

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