Funeral held for Philadelphia firefighter killed in Fairhill collapse

Philadelphia firefighter
Firefighters prepare to unload Lt. Sean Williamson’s casket Monday, June 27, in front of Epiphany of Our Lord Church in South Philadelphia.
Jack Tomczuk

Family, friends and fellow firefighters gathered Monday to mourn the loss of Lt. Sean Williamson, who was killed earlier this month after a building that had been on fire collapsed in Fairhill.

As a bagpipes-and-drums band played, Williamson’s casket, draped in an American flag, was carried on top of a fire engine from 10th Street and Snyder Avenue to South Philadelphia’s Epiphany of Our Lord Church.

Williamson, 51, a U.S. Marine veteran, served 27 years in the Philadelphia Fire Department, most recently at Ladder 18 in Nicetown.

During his funeral Mass, retired fire Lt. George Kiefer recounted how he and Williamson became close friends, despite Kiefer being 22 years older.

“He came to us, and you could see the Marine in him right away,” Kiefer said. “You had to watch what you said to Sean. If he thought it was an order, it was going to get done, quick.”

Members of the Philadelphia Fire Department salute the casket of Lt. Sean Williamson on Monday, June 27.Jack Tomczuk

Williamson, four other firefighters and a Department of Licenses and Inspections employee were trapped in the rubble after a building on the 300 block of W. Indiana Avenue caved in at around 3 a.m. June 18.

About an hour earlier, firefighters had responded to a blaze at the property, evacuating eight people, but the fire had been declared under control by the time the building collapsed. Investigations into the cause of the fire and collapse are ongoing.

Two firefighters, Dennis Daly and Robert Brennan Jr., were seriously injured.

Brennan and Williamson were trapped for several hours, with rescue crews pulling them out just before 7 a.m that day. Williamson died at the scene.

Joyce Badolato and Judy Wurster did not know Williamson, but they decorated their stoop on S. 11th Street with ‘thin red line’ flags and watched as his casket was carried up Epiphany’s steep front steps.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” Wurster said of the procession. “It’s just so surreal to see it in live action.”

Judy Wurster, left, and Joyce Badolato decorated their stoops and watched the procession Monday, June 27, in South Philadelphia.Jack Tomczuk

For Williamson’s morning viewing, a line of firefighters wrapped around the block. One told Metro he came from France to pay his respects.

Williams “performed the greatest act of love” by laying down his life for strangers, said the Rev. James R. Casey, who presided over the Mass.

“For nearly three decades, he worked to keep our residents safe,” Mayor Jim Kenney said during the service. “He not only risked his life to protect and serve others, he also missed countless family gatherings, holidays and birthdays to serve the greater good.”

Over the course of his career, Williamson taught at the city’s Fire Academy and served on special search-and-rescue teams.

“Sean excelled in every aspect of the job,” fire Lt. David Herron said.

Mourners enter Epiphany of Our Lord Church in South Philadelphia on Monday, June 27, for a viewing for Lt. Sean Williamson.Jack Tomczuk

Following the Mass, a vehicle procession took Williamson’s body to his old firehouse, on Hunting Park Avenue, before returning to a funeral home in South Philadelphia for a final ceremony.

“Sean was a force for good, and he dedicated his entire life to serving others,” Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said. “He earned a reputation as one of our best.”

Williamson leaves behind his partner, Dana Kuzma; children, Patrick, Alyssa Glassey and Kierra Kuzma; mother, Barbara Nerch-Williamson; three sisters and a host of other relatives, according to his obituary.