Firefighter remains in critical condition - Philadelphia News

HOLMESBURG - November 20, 2008 The firefighters from Ladder 28 found heavy smoke pouring from the garage on Wingate st. in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia.

Two of them went to the roof to cut vent holes. When they did, both fell through.

54 year old Raymond Rajchell dropped 20 feet to a concrete floor. 37 year old Robert Underwood got hung up on the overhead rafters. Both were rushed to the hospital.

Underwood was able to go home Wednesday night. Rajchell remains in critical condition after undergoing 10 hrs of surgery Thursday for multiple fractures.

The garage was being illegally used as an auto body repair shop. Investigators say the fire was ignited by an improperly used battery charger. L&I fire inspectors came in Thursday morning and shut the place down.

"It wasn't legal, zoning-wise," said John Wallace of L&I. "It didn't meet the fire code requirements. There are numerous and serious fire code and electrical violations."

Between them, firefighters Rajchel and Underwood have 57 years of experience.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers says they went by the book Wednesday night, but they encountered an unusually flimsy roof.

"The firefighters cut the roof, the roof broke in a way that many of us have never seen," Ayers said.

The garage is part of a sprawling former industrial complex owned by Wolf Investment Corp. Other tenants say the buildings are neglected and falling down around them.

The building has a sagging roof that's been reinforced by new beams, but the occupants say it has numerous leaks and they run outside when they hear it cracking and popping.

"Definitely a safety hazard. We have a lot of water that comes in when it rains. When it snows, we have to worry bout the weights and shovel it off," said Sam Rocco or Rocco and Sons Roofing.

Action News was unable to reach the landlord Thursday.

The D.A.'s office will be investigating possible charges if the building is found to have been in a state of criminal neglect.

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