Neighbors: Man seen climbing 19-story West Philadelphia apartment building during fire was looking for mother

Katherine Scott Image
Friday, July 19, 2019
Residents: Man climbing high rise was looking for family
Residents: Man climbing high rise was looking for family: as seen on Action News Morning, July 19, 2019.

PHILADELPHIA -- A man seen climbing down a West Philadelphia apartment building during a fire was trying to reach his family on the 15th floor, neighbors tell Action News.

Chopper 6 was over the scene Thursday night at the Westpark Apartments on the 4400 block of Holden Street when the man scaled the side of the 19-story building.

Man scales down West Philly building during fire on July 18, 2019.

On Friday, residents told Action News that he wasn't climbing down to escape the flames. Instead, they said he rushed to the building upon learning of the fire because his family members live there.

He was told his mother was still upstairs.

When he wasn't granted access, Action News is told he decided to climb the side of the building to the 15th floor, perhaps not realizing he couldn't get through the fenced balconies.

Then residents said he turned back around and climbed down.

"He got up there and couldn't get in because you see how the gates is, and he climbed back down," resident Lisa Stenson said.

The fire, located in the trash chute, was called in shortly before 9:30 p.m.

Four residents and three police officers suffered injuries.

When firefighters arrived, they said they were met with light smoke throughout the apartment complex, which residents said quickly got thicker.

"Next thing you know, we came out and the whole hallway was filled up with smoke," Stenson, who has an apartment on the second floor, said.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority conducts monthly fire drills at Westpark. The last one was in June. But some residents said they could never have prepared for the panic they felt.

Marcella Harris was on the 11th floor when the fire broke out.

"It was so much smoke. I couldn't even breathe or nothing. So I just knew to go on the porch. Everybody was yelling, 'what floor is it on? Come out!' And I was like, 'no, we can't go out' because we wouldn't have made it," Harris said.

Harris said a firefighter came to her door and led her out.

Action News is told the fire department was given a list of units to check where elderly or disabled residents live. But downstairs, for some, the panic was growing.

"They were panicked down at ground level, mainly because you could see people on their porches waving flags and trying to get help, which took a while," one resident said.

No water damage to units has been reported yet from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, but at least woman told Action News her apartment was soaked.

Kirk Dorn from PHA said the only damage to units was caused by the fire department breaking down doors. They said those repairs were conducted before residents were allowed back in the building.

The fire was officially placed under control at 10:56 p.m.