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Phila. Council Committee OKs Overhaul Of How City Handles Large Vacant Buildings

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A city council committee has signed off on a sweeping overhaul of how Philadelphia handles large vacant buildings. The changes were spurred by the deaths of two firefighters who perished in a warehouse fire in Kensington in 2012.

Firefighters Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney died in April 2012 battling a blaze that had begun in a vacant warehouse. A subsequent analysis of the tragedy found a host of ways that the city can better protect residents from shuttered vacant warehouses and months of negotiation between council and the Nutter Administration resulted in this legislation. Praising the changes at the hearing was a national expert on fire safety, Christopher Naum.

"This bill will directly contribute to the potential to further limit injuries, loss of life and other adverse events that come about within these structures. It really provides the resources that your fire department needs to carry out their duties and to keep their firefighters safe. And also keep the community safe," said Naum.

Among the changes called for in the bill are better systems to make sure the large vacant properties are secured and inspected with information on the properties readily available in a database.

"With this new system, that information will be available in real time, and instantaneously, where that information is share. And information can be known about the condition of a building," said L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams.

Williams said the city's ultimate goal is to restore the vacant structures so they're occupied and no longer pose a threat to residents or firefighters. The bill now goes to the full council for a vote.

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