Four of his comrades and a city worker were pulled alive from the rubble, a fire official said.
The collapse of 300 W. Indiana Ave. in the city’s Fairhill neighborhood came shortly before 3:30 am, — about 90 minutes after firefighters were called to fight the fire there — and sent colleagues scrambling to rescue those trapped inside, 1st Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said.
“Our department lost a member bravely fighting a fire and then caught in a building collapse after the fire was over,” he said.
“We just finished up pulling … our brothers out of this place. It’s going to be a rough few weeks coming up,” Murphy told reporters Saturday morning.
Four firefighters and a city licensing and inspections worker were rescued and sent to a hospital. The licensing worker was released, and the four firefighters remained hospitalized Saturday morning in stable condition, Murphy said.
Williamson was “one of our most experienced lieutenants,” Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel said during a briefing.
“I’m almost speechless,” Thiel said. “I’m not done crying.”
Officials identified the five others injured as Fire Marshal Lt. Sylvester Burton; Lt. Clarence Johnson; firefighter Dennis Daly; firefighter Robert Brennan, Jr.; and Thomas Rybakowski, a supervisor with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.
The Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the blaze with help from the ATF, the release said. No cause has yet been determined, it added.
A search and rescue operation after a blaze
Firefighters were called to the building at 1:53 am because of a box alarm and found a fire, which they put out, Murphy said.
As firefighters focused on displaced residents and “overhaul” — looking for remaining fire in concealed spaces — the building collapsed, Murphy said. Eight occupants of the property were safely evacuated, the city’s news release said.
One person jumped from the second floor to avoid getting trapped. Others were pulled out systematically, Murphy said.
During rescue efforts, rescuers had “dialogue” with those trapped, including tapping on the debris “so somebody could know that somebody was in there,” Murphy said.
Three firefighters and the inspector were initially trapped but rescued and taken to the hospital, the news release said.
This was a “lean-to/pancake collapse,” Murphy said, in that while some collapsed material might have fallen flat on a surface, other material might have leaned against a wall, creating space. “There were a lot of void spaces,” Murphy said.
Williamson was one of two fire department members who were trapped under debris after the collapse, the city’s news release said. He was pronounced deceased on the scene at roughly 6:45 am, officials said.
The other member, Brennan, was taken to the hospital and is in stable condition, the release said.
The fire response for the building’s collapse was placed under control shortly after 7:10 am, it added.
CNN’s Michelle Watson and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.