Burning Questions in West Philly Apartment Complex Fire

Searching for answers in the rubble of the disaster at Windermere Court.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Feb. 23, 2011

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He’d have to see another cat in the window today to secure another warrant.

Suddenly, a shouting match erupts as residents begin yelling while in line to hand in their lists.

I begin recording the scene when a man approaches me and asks me to stop.

“People are just frustrated,” he says. “C’mon. You shouldn’t being recording this.”

I tell him I’m a reporter and ask him who he is. “Just someone helping out,” he responds.

Afterward, ex-residents identify the man as co-owner David Ginsberg. When I approach him a couple hours later and ask him for comment, he denies involvement and laughs, “I know nothing! You know more than me. I should be asking you!”

Alexandra of City Kitties says that later that night, the Ginsbergs “changed their tune” and allowed her to set some traps.

Indeed, Rocco, the eighth and final rescued cat, survived 39 days abandoned in the building. He is suffering liver damage from starvation due to the delay.

Blame Game

“I’ve been in, but I want back in,” says ex-Windermere tenant Daniel Samson, 28.

Unlike most residents who say they’ve called the owners to no avail, Samson says he has spoken directly with the Ginsbergs. Unsurprisingly, Samson says that the Ginsbergs have explained the situation is in the hands of L&I.

“That’s not true,” says Mark McDonald, spokesperson for Mayor Nutter. “The company that owns the building controls the site, not the L&I, not the city. So if people weren’t being let in, it’s under their control … The building is controlled by the owner, not L&I.”

Vail says that not only was access to the property was in the city’s control, the city has filed a lawsuit against Keystone Management demanding demolition. “We were sued because the building was not down yet, so there’s lawsuit from the city,” he said.

Frances Burns, commissioner of L&I, says that while there was a lawsuit filed, it is being distorted when used as a reason to deny ex-residents access onto the property.

“We declared the building imminently dangerous which means that it should be repaired or demolished immediately, and that we usually like to see an action plan immediately and see an owner taking steps to that end,” says Burns. “A distinguishing factor of this is that we’ve seen owners take a variety of steps that have actually placated tenants, acting in that private relationship between an owner and a tenant and part of that problem here is that did not happen immediately. I don’t think it was a matter of L&I interference.”

In other words, there was no legal reason the owners could not have coordinated the salvage day earlier than 36 days after the fire.

At least one resident says he’s involved in a class-action lawsuit.

“We have an attorney group that’s waiving all fees and is going to support all tenants,” says Samson. “[The suit] is already signed and ready to go.”

Meanwhile, Christine Reimart of local PR firm Devine + Powers—hired to speak for the Ginsbergs once the heat was on—points the finger in yet another direction: the Philadelphia Fire Marshal.

“It wouldn’t have been the owners the building. [The building] was sealed for two weeks [following Jan. 10]… by the fire marshal because it was so structurally unsound,” says Reimert. “The owners weren’t able to have access either.”

But residents say they’ve seen maintenance men going in and out of the building the whole time. In fact, a few charge that one maintenance man in the particular was spotted—and photographed—leaving the building with a pickup truck that, in the words of one angry former resident, “was full of stuff that wasn’t necessarily building materials.”

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. phillyskyline said... on Feb 23, 2011 at 01:51PM

“"“It would take a lot to further overwhelm PSCPA and Animal Care and Control Team and since they’re 24/7 and have the resources available to respond to 99 percent of the emergency responses we have in Philadelphia, they are the first line in emergency animal care,” says Phillips."

Is Ms. Phillips joking? ACCT is underfunded, overwhelmed, and is absolutely not available 24/7. I don't know where she got her information, but it's 100% wrong.

It's shocking that these two agencies (OEM and PSPCA/ACCT) are too busy pointing fingers to sit down and come up with an effective, meaningful emergency protocol for animals. Does Ms. Phillips realize that Windermere tenants' pets suffered because of her inaction? If so, she certainly doesn't seem to care.

Ms. Phillips, consider yourself on notice. Philadelphians' (exorbitant) taxes pay your salary, and we intend to force you to do your job.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2011 at 04:19PM

“What Bull. If Nutter had wanted to help those animals he could have. And so could George Bengal and the PSPCA. Cannot believe they missed a chance to rush in, grab some press then kill all the animals they "rescued." That's what they usually do.
ANd oh yeah....where has the press been???”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2011 at 06:24PM

“this is disgusting and a disgrace”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2011 at 06:33PM

“the spca cant even respond to half the routine calls and cruelty complaints in the city now thats a bunch of bull, they cant handle anymore work. look at the great job they did here .”

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5. AnimalWelfare said... on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:39PM

“If you are not getting the justice, then over step the mayor, and the others, by appealing to the state. If you truly want something done, call your state representatives, and speak about animal welfare - animals have hearts, emotions, bond with their owners, they are scared and feel abandoned. Work at the hearts of the politicians, and do not make it just a few of you, gather as much public support as you can. Call the Cat Rescues and the animal adoption agencies (NOT SPCA or any humane facilities). I bear to think of what the animal are feeling - abandoned, scared and unloved.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:21AM

“Nutter is a disgrace. I politely, yes very politely, called his office to voice my opinion about the Windemere cats and I got the run around. Not only that, but his office was outrageously rude. I voted for him the first time, but I certainly won't be voting for him again! No way, no how!”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 14, 2011 at 09:10PM

“Nutter is absolutely awful! First, my animals are like my children. I would accept jail time by unlawfully entering that building to rescue an animal. I'd later go to every news channel and explain my story. Nutter should have done everything in his power to help those animals in need. He's going to lose a lot of votes next race. I hope Philadelphians are smart and elect someone new.”

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8. Kathleen W. said... on Mar 15, 2011 at 08:00PM

“The city of Philadelphia did a horrible job in this case. These animals needed help & nothing was done. My cats are my children, & I would have done ANYTHING to get them out of that apartment. I feel so sorry for all the suffering that happened due to the lack of caring from the city.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 09:05AM

“The situation with PCART Phila County Animal Rescue Team is a disgrace. Every other CART in the State has a fully equipped trailer. However, in Philly the trailer is assigned to the overworked and overstreatched PSPCA. The willing and highly trained volunteers of PCART have nothing in the way of equipment. It's no wonder that PCART loses it volunteers faster than they can train new volunteers. In the end, the animals and the people who love them are given the shaft by the City of Philadelphia.

I am blessed to live in Bucks County where we have a well staffed, well equipped and well managed CART. Philly is a disgrace!”


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