Elderly siblings killed in S. Philly fire

September 29, 2009 10:13:49 AM PDT
A fast-moving house fire claimed the life of two elderly siblings in South Philadelphia overnight.Flames broke out at about 12:15 a.m. on the 2400 block of S. Warnock Street.

Heavy fire was showing on the first floor of the 2-story row house when firefighters arrived. It took about 25 minutes to get the fire under control.

Rescuers could hear screams from the second floor, and repeatedly tried to break down the front door.

Once inside, the body of 68-year-old Madeline Hart was found on the first floor. The second victim, a 73-year-old Robert Ermilo, was found on the second floor. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate the man, but to no avail.

Neighbors say the victims were an elderly brother and sister. Ermilo had been caring for his sister, who suffers from osteoporosis and deteriorating eyesight.

"As far as her condition went, she never complained," said Hart's son, James. "She was always very cheerful."

Officials say after a preliminarily investigation, the fire does not appear to be suspicious, saying this was likely an accident.

Firefighters did not find any working smoke detectors in the home, a frustrating discovery for the fire commissioner.

"We have not found any smoke alarms in this home," Commissioner LLoyd Ayers said at the scene overnight.

Family members and friends gathered at the scene, trying to make sense of the tragedy. Neighbors say, by the time firefighters arrived, the blaze was already out of control.

"The whole block was lit up. Flames were just shooting out of the house," said neighbor Anthony Fusco.

Neighbors say the siblings loved to sit on their front steps and chat with people. Ermilo was well known.

"He was a bartender for years and years here. He's just a neighborhood guy, a neighborhood character," said neighbor Robert Jackson.

In response to this fire, the Philadelphia Fire Department will hand out the "Home Fire Safety Check List," and other fire prevention materials. Smoke alarms will also be installed in homes in the immediate area of the fire fatalities.

Residents can obtain additional fire safety and education information at www.phila.gov/fire

Anyone who do not have a smoke alarm and cannot afford one should call the Smoke Alarm Hotline at 215-686-1176.

The Fire Department also offers a "Remembering When" fire and fall prevention training program for senior citizens located at local senior centers and or churches. For more information contact the Philadelphia Fire Prevention Division at 215-686-1382.


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