Firefighter critical after deadly No. Liberties blaze

April 20, 2011 2:38:20 PM PDT
A firefighter remains in critical condition after a blaze that killed a retired police officer in Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood.

Firefighter Joseph Seeger was one of three fireifghters who were injured, hospitalized with burns and a head injury. While his condition is still classified as critical, officials say his condition is improving.

Firefighter Christine Lardon was also injured, suffering from burns. Lieutenant Raymond Vozzelli was treated and released.

70-year-old Joseph "Louis" Bell, who used a wheelchair, died in the fast-moving fire. Bell, who served with the Philadelphia police, has a son - Kevin - currently serving in the 16th District.

In a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, authorities say the firefighters knew it was dangerous to go into the house, but they also knew someone was inside and they were "duty-bound" to try and rescue him.

Another injury was also reported on Wednesday afternoon - Bell's nephew, Gajuan Bell, 24. Investigators say he was rescued from the second floor but was injured when he tried to go back into the burning house trying to rescue his uncle.

The blaze broke out around 11:30 Tuesday night - gutting the row home, located on a cul-de-sac on the 800 block of N. 5th Street.

The firefighters were injured when they faced what is referred to as a flashover - a big flare up of flames.

The mayor and the fire commissioner rushed to Temple University Hospital to check on the injured firefighters.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers described what happened by saying, "While they were attacking the fire they had a flash over. Several of the firefighters were injured. We actually called a mayday on that to make sure we could get our firefighters out."

Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters, "The three firefighters that were injured, we've seen all of them. Two are stable and awake. And one of the officers suffered a number of injuries and is getting continued treatment."

The fire was extinguished in about 45 minutes. That's when firefighters discovered the victim's body up on the second floor.

State Senator Curtis Thomas lives across the street from the Bell family home. He described Joseph Bell as a neighbor and a friend.

"I know that people are going to rally to support the family and to extend our condolences," Thomas said.

Firefighters did find working smoke detectors inside the home.

There is no word yet on what may have sparked the fire.