1. #1
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    Unhappy Gloucester City, NJ Children

    GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J. (AP) - Twelve uniformed firefighters and
    police officers assumed the duty of pallbearers Thursday, gently
    carrying three small caskets from St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
    after the final funeral Mass for victims of a deadly July 4 fire.
    The mother of the three young girls who died in the blaze, which
    also killed three firefighters, remained hospitalized in critical
    condition.
    Monsignor Harry Jordan directed his homily for the Angels Mass
    to her and the children's father, who was in the church.
    "Frank and Tia, when your dreams tumble down and your world is
    a mess, when it seems as if nothing is worthwhile any more, just
    remember all those times that your three little girls climbed on
    your knees and whispered, `Mommy, Daddy, I love you most of all,"'
    he said.
    Five-year-old Alexandra Slack and her sisters, 3-year-old twins
    Colletta and Claudia, died after they were trapped inside their
    burning home.
    Sixteen firefighters went in to look for them; only 13 made it
    out alive when the building collapsed. The others - Thomas G.
    Stewart III, James Sylvester and John D. West - were buried after
    emotional firefighters' funerals earlier this week.
    Relatives and neighbors said the girls were inseparable and full
    of life, whether selling lemonade on the sidewalk, playing on their
    prized new slip-n-slide or dressing up in oversized sombreros.
    By Thursday, the debris from their house was removed, replaced
    by a small memorial garden.
    Strangers as well as friends mourned the loss. Pat Gerber, who
    takes orders at Sunshine Flowers and Gifts, said people who never
    knew the girls bought flowers to place where the home once stood or
    to take to the funeral.
    One man wrote on a card: "For the three angels who will forever
    be watching over our city."
    At the funeral, their caskets were closed, but each girl was
    represented by a photograph. The twins were shown in their
    Halloween costumes from last year, Colletta dressed as a bumblebee,
    Claudia as a ladybug.
    The bells at St. Mary's played patriotic songs to begin and end
    the hour-long service.
    The children's bodies were taken away from the church to a
    private burial in a short funeral procession of seven vehicles - a
    stark contrast to the firefighters' funerals where the processions
    were hundreds of vehicles long.
    Maryann Sabol, 55, of South Philadelphia was among the estimated
    600 mourners at the church. The girls' father was her plumber, she
    said.
    "I've never seen anything this sad in all my life," Sabol
    said.
    Near the church, crossing guard Bob Bennett, wearing a
    smiley-face button on his orange vest, was near tears as he ushered
    mourners instead of schoolchildren across the street.
    "Every kid I see, I just feel like giving them a hug," said
    Bennett, 64.
    By Thursday, investigators from local and county agencies and
    the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had not
    announced a cause of the fire, which broke out around 1:30 a.m. in
    the working class community of 11,500 directly across the Delaware
    River from Philadelphia.
    Inspectors finished their work at the fire scene Saturday, but
    continued to interview witnesses.
    The girls' mother, Katia "Tia" Williamson, 24, remained at
    Crozer Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., where she is being
    treated for the effects of severe smoke inhalation.
    Frank Slack, 27, a plumber and refrigeration worker, had moved
    with his longtime girlfriend and their three daughters to
    Gloucester City from South Philadelphia last year in the hope of
    giving the children more room to play and a better education.
    Relatives said the girls' paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Slack,
    treasured the three so much that she got symbols representing them
    tattooed on her legs.
    The symbols - a sun, a moon and three stars - appeared on the
    flower arrangement she had taken to the funeral.

    (Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press
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    I can't help but come back to the same thing everytime I see something like this. The mother may not live. Three children died. And yet, the father was treated for minor injuries and released? As a parent, and as someone who knows how hot a fire is, I would still like to believe that if one or more of my children were trapped in a fire, I would die trying to get to them. How many times have I read in FireWire about incidents where the children died, yet the parents or adults involved had no injuries?



    God Bless those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, my thoughts and prayers are with thier families.

    Ember
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    Here's piece from the local paper...



    Slack said he felt "like a failure" for not rescuing his children. He tried to describe his state of mind.

    He'd been asleep with the kids in the only air-conditioned room in the duplex at Broadway and Mercer Street.

    Tia had been out of the house.

    The next thing Slack knew, he said, Tia had returned shortly after 1 a.m. and was shaking him awake, yelling that the house was on fire.

    "I was in shock. I was scared. I didn't know if I was coming or going, or if I was in a dream," Slack said in an interview last week at his mother's house in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.

    The first thing he thought was, "I'm not going to be able to save these kids if I can't get my body together to get them.

    "If I climbed across the bedroom and passed out, that would have been no good. We would have all been dead," Slack said.

    So he opened the window on his side of the bed.

    He stuck his head out the window, gulped for fresh air but breathed smoke instead. He inched across the roof toward the other half of the duplex.

    He forced his way into the neighbor's window, ran through the house and out to the back yard.

    He grabbed a ladder. He was barefoot and naked. A neighbor handed him a pair of boxer shorts.

    He had no idea, he said, that both duplexes were about to collapse in the fire.

    As he ran to the front of the house, an emergency medical technician stopped him and pulled him away.

    He had no chance to return and save his kids, he said. He wanted to, he said, but he was held away from the fire.

    "I just wanted to get those babies out," he said. "I wanted to get Tia."

    Moments later, in a heap of flames, the duplex collapsed, killing the girls and the three firefighters trying to save them.


    There has been alot of rumors flying around and I hope none of them are true, the investigation will hopefully clear most of them up....

    But the one thing that bugs the hell out of me is why would you climb out the window to get out, but not take your children with you......


    Robert B.
    proud father of twin 3 1/2 years girls
    with 21 years on the job

    sorry if I sound like I'm venting but I lost two friends that night who which I had worked with at the county fire academy teaching FF1.

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    Robert,

    My heart goes out to you. I wish I could say that I understand what you feel, but truthfully, I don't. I hope I never will.

    With what you've just posted you've made me question even more the reason a person would leave thier children inside a burning home. If they were in seperate rooms, past the fire even, I might be able to understand. But, to get up, walk across them and leave?? They were just babies. That, I'll never be able to comprehend.

    Ember
    Proud mother of three little ones myself, 8, 9 and 9 months
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    I have to agree with NJ-TF1.

    My wife and I have an understanding when it comes to our children. She gets out and goes to the kids window, I go to the kids room and get them. It may sound stupid, reckless, and not in accordance with the 3 P's, but you're helping those that can't help themselves. My son is 2 yrs old and still in a crib, my daughter is 4 yrs old and in a youth bed with a bar so she doesn't roll out of bed.

    As far as the newspaper articles about the fire. Well lets not speculate what the cause was. In a room with the A/C going on a hot night is enough noise to possibly drown out the noise of the smoke detector and enough time to give the fire good progress (that's just my opinion, you can blast me if you like). I still feel alot of regret that I wasn't given the opportunity to respond even though my co. was there to help.
    "The saw won't start, heh, grab the axe and start chopping"

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    Trust me, don't speculate on the cause as of yet.

    Secondly, you are all trained to act in emergency situations. You know how to make split second decisions, assess conditions and make an estimate as to how long you have to make a grab. You have been in fire situations before.

    This guy had no training. And to tell you the truth, his thought process was not that flawed. There is also the fact that he probably had a good dose of smoke that raised his CO level. An elevated CO level will impair judgement.

    The only thing I fault here is why someone was letting children sleep in a building where there are no operating smoke detectors. That, in my opinion, is inexcusable.

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    Arrow

    Mother of Gloucester City fire victims leaves hospital

    (Gloucester City-AP) -- The mother of three sisters who died in
    a July Fourth duplex fire in Gloucester City is "feeling O-K."
    Katia Williamson was released from a Pennsylvania hospital
    yesterday.
    Williamson was burned in the fire, which also killed three
    firefighters who tried to rescue the girls.
    Williamson has been questioned by Camden County fire
    investigators who are trying to determine what sparked the blaze.
    The 24-year-old and her husband, who was not injured, are
    staying with his mother in Philadelphia.
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
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    Gotta agree with George on this one. I hope a bomb technician would not look back and 2nd guess my decisions in the 30 seconds before a bomb exploded in my house. We were not there, we were not in Mr. Slack's shoes, we do not know what happened. To question what this man did or did not do, from the comfort of our computer screens, would be rather rude of us. The man has lost three children ... that is much more of a price to pay than any criticism that we could post on this forum.

    Stay Safe

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    Posted by George Wendt....."Secondly, you are all trained to act in emergency situations. You know how to make split second decisions, assess conditions and make an estimate as to how long you have to make a grab. You have been in fire situations before.

    This guy had no training. And to tell you the truth, his thought process was not that flawed. There is also the fact that he probably had a good dose of smoke that raised his CO level. An elevated CO level will impair judgement.

    The only thing I fault here is why someone was letting children sleep in a building where there are no operating smoke detectors. That, in my opinion, is inexcusable."


    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    I'm not usually one to disagree with my elders, but in this case, I find I must. I understand that we are all trained to respond in emergency conditions. However, I cannot imagine that just because someone isn't a firefighter or paramedic that suddenly thier common sense goes flying out the window (apparently along with them). I don't care how much smoke I inhaled, as a parent and as a person with a conscience, I could not imagine climbing over my children (as he was reported to have done in some local papers) and getting myself outside. Secondly, these children were not infants. They could have easily been awakened and walked themselves out. Not to mention that they certainly didn't weigh that much, he could just as easily carried them out.

    Now, I'm not normally one to judge others, or to play Monday morning Quarterback, but in this case I refuse to believe that this man thought of anything more than saving himself.

    Fire is hot, I think we can all say that, and the things that a human being would do to get out of it are pretty extreme (I think we've all seen video of people jumping out of windows to escape fire at one time or another). I understand that...but it doesn't stop me from wondering at his actions.

    This is just my opinion, and I think we can agree to disagree on this.

    Ember
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    Originally posted by ember
    I refuse to believe that this man thought of anything more than saving himself. [/B]
    I hope that your peers are easier on you when your thought process and actions are less than desirable in the midst of an awful situation.

    Were you there? No. Did you breathe in whatever this gentleman did? No. Were you faced with the circumstances that he was? No. How dare you judge another person's actions without experiencing what that man has experienced.

    Could he have done differently? Could he have saved his children? WE DON'T KNOW.

    Stay Safe

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    How dare you judge another person's actions without experiencing what that man has experienced
    First of all, I dare because this is America, and therefore I have the right to voice my opinion. And that is exactly what it is, an opinion. No, my peers are NOT easy on me if I make a mistake, not one that is potentially hazardous to them or to someone else.

    Secondly, I cannot say what he was thinking, and that much is true, but I don't need to sit here and debate it because facts are facts. He made it out, they didn't. I hope for his sake that he was in a state of shock. I know that he is going to live with that for the rest of his life. But when I read over and over and over and over about parents that make it out of house fires and children that don't, the statement that they were not aware of thier actions begin to wear on me.

    Thirdly, this is my last post on this subject as we obviously do not agree. Your last post just emphasizes the fact that this is an emotional issue for all involved. I respect your opinion, and would ask that you respect mine.


    Ember
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    Ember, I certainly hope that you will go back and read the account that this man gave regarding this fire. We all say that if our kids are going to die n a fire, I am going to die in a fire. But the reality is, every day we are witness to situations where people either demonstrate vividly their complete lack of common sense or their lack of a judgement process. In this case, I feel great empathy for this man over the loss of his children. I have investigated probably 50-60 fatal fires, about half involving children. Almost every one being preventable. I am not going to judghe this man's actions in a chaotic, emergency situation.

    What I am upset at, and I will never forgive him, and I would tell him to his face if he were here, is that he is total boob for allowing his children to sleep even one night in a house without a smoke detector. Since it was a two-family house, in NJ, it was his responsibility to make sure they were there and that they worked; no one else's. With a properly operating smoke detector, even one smoke detector-a $10 smoke detector-would have saved six lives.

    Get mad at the things we can do something about. We can't teachg people how to act in a fire, but we can sure as hell teach them about smoke detectors. In NJ, they are available from the state for FREE.

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    Default Gloucester City Fire

    First I will say that there will be alot of "Stories" about this fire in the weeks, months, and possibly years to come. Like George Wendt says don't speculate over a cause yet. I my-self have herd 4 causes from people who weren't even at the fire which is another thing that bothers the crap out of me. Monday Morning Quarter-Backing! Although I wasn't directly connected with the Brothers who made the Supreme Sacrifice I had two of the men as Instructors for Firefighting Training over the Years and I was a Gloucester City Volunteer from 1996 to 1998 before I moved to the suburbs. So in a way I knew all three men. I'm sorry to say I never met the Slack Family. Gloucester City Fire Department is a very well trained and educated department consisting of both career and volunteers who work very well together. There was no way for anyone there to know that that house was going to collapse. Gloucester City is an Older City well over 100 years old with buildings to match. It is a dence area packed tight with older duplex style apartments and large industry.

    Secondly I watched the news stories as did thousands of others and to see a man who just lost his children in a house fire "cry" on national t.v. and not shed a tear --- I have a real problem with that Don't anyone give the B.S. Story that his CO Level was high --- I have a two year old son and like others have said If my child can't get out than I'm dying there with him. Thats not part of being trained to deal with emergencies and being a trained firefighter it is simple human nature --- We protect our Young same as animals do. I'm not going to speculate a cause because at this point it would be wrong and No, I'm not a fire investigator and more so than that I was not at the incident.

    I'll agree with George Wendt on this though, A working Smoke detector may have saved lives....But aside from news reports George how do we know that there wasn't a smoke detector in the residence ? House collapsed and there was nothing left. From being a Gloucester City Fire Fighter I know for a fact that duplex style apartments in that city are required to have working smoke detectors before they can be occupied. Checks are done by the members of the career department during inspections...Now thats not to say that after the Slacks moved in they didn't disable the detector for what ever reason but thats pure speculation. I mean no disrespect towards George Wendt or any one else here but too many "stories" are floating around and more people are getting hurt ---It needs to stop --- Three men and three children died on our nations holiday as the result of fire. How it started isn't our job to determine --- My County has Fire Marshals for that --- The official cause if determined will be released.

    Sorry to all if I rambled on and on but I needed to get this off my chest. I'm just getting tired of all the speculation. The Truth will be told....Until then I wish everyone would let this thing rest
    Stratford Fire Company # 1
    New Jersey State Firemen's Convention Champions - 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000

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    BD, the New Jersey State Police Arson/Bomb Unit was conducting this investigation. I guess, for now, you are going to have to take my word for it that I know. I can expound at a later date. This is no "story".

    This is also no slap at whoever did the inspection. All the inspection is good for is to say at that moment, the detector was working. It could have been disabled fifteen minutes later and, in a one/two family dwelling in NJ, there would be no way for the FD to know.

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    George,

    I know you're your right about the Bomb/Arson Unit. I also saw ATF Agents on the News at the sight [Are they the same agency ?] I wasn't trying to slap anyone over inspections or anything like that I'm not quite sure how you figured I was --- I just want the truth to come out over how the fire started [Arson or Accidential]

    Let me ask this -- I know you're an experienced investigator and I respect the opinions you post here --- Do All fatal fires require the response of ATF, Bomb Squads, Ect..? or was that because Firefighters Died ? Or was it because they suspected something more than is being said ? Stories around Fire Houses in my area is that investigators suspect more than what they are saying. Can you elaborate on that ? if you can't I understand. Thanks George.

    BD
    Stratford Fire Company # 1
    New Jersey State Firemen's Convention Champions - 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000

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    I have to agree with George about the working smoke detector. Like George has mentioned that Smoke Detectors are free in NJ. I think that needs to be announced again in the media.

    BD032, I believe the Arson/Bomb Unit is run by the State Police, and ATF is run by the Fed. Dept. in NJ. I could be worng though.
    "The saw won't start, heh, grab the axe and start chopping"

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    In my neck of the woods, every time we bring in the ATF, there are a slew of conspiracy stories running around. They are never true.

    I spoke about this on another thread, but I am happy to do it again.

    The BATF, run by the US Treasury Dept., has a group of Special Agents who have trained to a level that is roughly equivalent to a college degree and have attained the title "Certified Fire Investigator". They et this designation by studying the science of fire, investigative techniques, fire research, legal issues, etc. and completing 100 fire scene investigations. They are then reviewed, tested and they are a CFI. They are essentially members of the BATF National Response Team, a team that can be anywher in the country with more equipment than you could possibly imagine to assist in the investigaiton of a major fire or explosion. They also have an International Response Team.

    However, they are not deployed all the time. They must cimplete a certain number of fire scene exams each year to maintain their cert. Fortunately for us, many local field offices have established formal and informal "task forces" with local law enforcement that allows us to benefit from the BATF CFI experience. We use them on many large losses. Normally, they would only be permitted to work on invests that involve a crime that is of potential federal jurisdiction. The CFI program allows them to work on anything. That is why you see them on many major invests in NJ.

    There is no requirement in NJ to call anyone on a violent death besides the county prosecutor's office and the medical examiner's office. In this particular case, I think you would agree that it was not a good idea for the County Fire Marshal's Office to work on this invest. They need time to heal from losing one of their own, especially as talented an investigator as John was. That is why the NJSP Arson/Bomb Unit has the lead in the invest.

    As far as details about this fire, I am not at liberty to share what I know. It would violate the confidene of other fire investigators. I urge you to withold your judgement a little while longer.

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    Thank-You George.....I understand a little better now
    Stratford Fire Company # 1
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