Philadelphia officials are grappling with possible new procedures for demolition and inspections following a June 5 building collapse that killed six people and injured 13 in Center City, all while grieving the loss of one of their own inspectors.
Philadelphia Licenses & Inspections staffer Ronald Wagenhoffer was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on June 12. On May 14, Wagenhoffer, 52, was the last city official to inspect the site, following a complaint. He reported no violations.
Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison and L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams praised the 16-year L&I veteran and defended his work.
"This man did nothing wrong," Gillison said of Wagenhoffer during a June 12 press conference. "The department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time, and we are proud of this department and its employees—period."
Since the collapse, the city has taken a hard look at its codes, policies and procedures relative to demolition in the city. L&I announced it has heightened permitting and inspection requirements for demolition. New permit applications require details about a contractor's experience and qualifications; a site safety plan to protect adjacent properties; and a detailed schedule of work. The department also now requires an engineering report for demolition of commercial buildings above three stories, and it will move to prohibit the use of heavy machinery for demolition of attached buildings.
A new "Construction Site Task Force" has been established to review and audit licensing, permitting and inspections of major construction and demolition sites.
The announced procedures could be the first of several changes in the works. Michael Taylor, executive director of the National Demolition Association, says the city is seeking input from local demolition contractors on possible regulatory changes. He fears that some proposals—such as experience and insurance requirements—could put small contractors at a disadvantage.
"If you say, 'You can't do work in the city unless you have at least $10 million in insurance,' how does that deal with the guy who just got out of the Seabees and wants to form a demolition company?" Taylor said.
Carl Mason, president of Central Salvage Co., Philadelphia, said any changes likely would not affect well-established demolition companies in the city, noting that demolition contractors, their clients and insurance carriers already push for standards above city requirements.
"We police ourselves well," he said. "Anything the city comes up with, we're probably already doing."