Controversy over "brownout" policy grows

PHILADELPHIA - August 9, 2010

Frank Marasco, a 12-year-old autistic child lost his life in the fire Saturday night at 137 South 55th Street.

The fire also damaged 4 neighboring row homes on the block and left behind a lot of people angry at Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and his administration's controversial 'brownout' policy.

"We feel here that had 56th street Fire station been open, Frank would not have lost his life," said Ruby Weaver.

For the record, Engine 57 had been closed during the day as part of the so-called 'brownout' policy in which the city is hoping to save over $3 million. It was due to open at night, however firefighters were picking up their equipment from another location. The firefighters union contends the equipment pick up was due to the brownout.

As a result, Engine 68, which is more than a mile away at 52nd and Willow, had to respond to the fire.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers contends the firefighters from Engine 68 arrived in a reasonable amount of time.

"They were here in approximately 3 minutes and something seconds," Ayers said. "They were here putting water on the fire."

But records obtained by Action News show that the first call to Fire Dispatch was received at 6:51:01. Fire equipment was dispatched 14 seconds later at 6:51:15. Battalion Chief 7 arrived in an SUV at 6:54:57; almost 4 minutes later, but with no firefighting equipment.

The firefighters union contends firefighting equipment did not arrive for yet another minute. A total of 5 minutes after the first call to Fire Dispatch.

Monday night, neighbors were critical of the folks at City Hall who are already under fire for that controversial DROP retirement program that has cost the city millions more than expected.

"They got a lot of people trying to get that big retirement money," said Virginia DeShields. "They got a whole lotta 'hush hush' stuff going and a whole lot of politicking going on. You know it and I know it and everybody knows. Always been, nothing's changed.

The fatal fire occurred in Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's district. Monday night she was calling for a full-scale investigation.

"We're asking a lot of questions, we're calling for an investigation, and we're saying, 'Open them up! It's not worth taking that chance. It's not worth $3 million or whatever the cost is. Some things aren't worth the price. We cannot pay the price when it comes to human life.'"

A vigil for 12-year-old Frank Marasco is now being planned by the community. He was an only child.

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