Firefighter's Death Tough for Community He Served

Tight-knit neighborhood saddened by loss of firefighter

Firefighter Michael Goodwin may not have lived in South Philadelphia, but he was just as much a part of the community as those who have called the Whitman and Pennsport sections of South Philly home for decades.

“These guys are just like family and this guy’s family can be proud of him,” says Jack Narkin.

The 70-year-old former Philadelphia Police Officer lives a few blocks from the firehouse at 4th and Snyder. His son John is a fellow fire captain and was working at Ladder 27 last Saturday. He ended his shift just hours before the fatal blaze.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that could have been my son,” Narkin said. “This guy had 29 years on him. He didn’t become a captain because he was a fool. He went in there; he was directing men to save lives.”

Goodwin, 53, was killed Saturday evening while fighting a three-alarm fire at Jack B. Fabrics along the 700 block of South 4th Street. He was poking holes in the third-floor roof of the fabric store when it gave way. Fellow firefighter Andrew Goldewski tried to save Goodwin, but was unable to when a second floor and two walls also came down. The 28-year-old suffered burns to his hands as a result.

Goodwin was honored with a posthumous promotion from Captain to Battalion Chief after his passing. A job he applied for not long before his death.

A concentration of firefighters and police officers live in the neighborhood surrounding the brick firehouse. That makes Goodwin’s death especially hard.

“They’re our neighbors,” says Barbara Leiferst Ginnetti, whose husband is a Philadelphia Police Officer. “As soon as you hear that siren you know they’re putting their lives on the line. It’s scary.”

John Rutkowski, the father of a Philadelphia fireman, says the members of the firehouse are always out in the community and are favorites of neighborhood kids.

“They have open house for the kids and the kids go visit the firehouse,” he said. The company also helps keep the nearby park and playground clean. The community says thank you with a block party in the summertime.

“It’s awful,” mother of four Melissa Gilbert said of Goodwin’s death. “They have been excellent in anything the schools need, just to come and teach them anything about fire safety.”

As black bunting slopes over the gates of the firehouse, a memorial grows out front. A toy ladder truck with a painted ’27’ sits among the flowers, candles, flags and notes that are piling up out front. A handwritten sign among the display reads ‘You’re our heroes’ – serving as a reminder to the company of the importance of their jobs.

Anna Talone was walking by Ladder 27 Tuesday morning when she found the memorial. The short. older woman with a thick Italian accent says she was so moved by the display, that she had to come back and pay her respects.

“I feel bad for that poor guy. He went out in the morning and never went back to his family,” she said. “I just had to go and get a flower.”

She wasn’t alone. A steady stream of neighbors, police officers and city employees have been stopping by to say a prayer and offer condolences.

Firefighters from other companies filled in at the firehouse Tuesday. Most of the members of Goodwin’s company were at the Philadelphia Fire Academy in Northeast Philadelphia, preparing for his funeral. A memorial will be held Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. at the Givnish Funeral Home on 10975 Academy Road. Goodwin will be laid to rest later Thursday.

Tuesday night, neighbors will tie red ribbons to railings and front lights as a motorcycle brigade of 2,000 thunders over to 4th and Snyder, site of the deadly fire, in memory of Goodwin.

“You put the uniform on and you go to work and you expect to come home at night. You have no fear and you do your job,” says Narkin. “This guy’s family can be proud of him.”

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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