CHESTER, Pa. (FOX 29) - Authorities say a father and his 7-year-old son died in a Chester fire that also critically injured the man's 4-year-old son.
"Ralph, he was a good man. Great dad, he tried to raise his kids the best way he could," stated Pastor Veronica Stewart, sister of the fire victim.
Siblings mourn the loss of single dad Ralph Freeman and his eight-year-old son James, victims of a deadly fire that swept their Chester apartment 2:45 Sunday morning.
Ralph's four-year-old son suffered critical injuries and is recovering at Children's Hospital.
It was not a 911 call, but a passing trucker who first noticed the smoke.
Firefighters battled their way inside the second floor apartment on West Second Street and Concord Avenue in Chester where they found the victims.
There were no working smoke alarms on the second floor, according to Fire Commissioner William Rigby.
"They had a tough time making entry. It's commercial on the first floor. We had a lot of debris in the way," Commissioner Rigby explained. "Making entry was difficult for our members. There was an apartment on the second floor. There were some alterations made to the second floor, but that's all I have."
"The cops come pounding on the door, 'Get out of the building! The building is on fire!'" neighbor Richard said.
Richard lives in the same building. He escaped the smoke and flames.
Richard just saw the family Saturday, in the backyard playground Ralph built for his kids.
"We were all playing out back. Then, today…here's today. He's not here anymore," Richard stated.
Through the day, friend after friend and neighbor after neighbor paying tribute to a father they describe as devoted to his boys. Doing odd jobs and working maintenance on the building so they'd have a stable place to sleep. Now, investigators are trying to find the building owner and figure out whether conditions met fire safety and living standards.
"He was a very good man and his mother and all of us, we were so close and this is devastating to the family," Pastor Stewart said.
Family members say James' mother is flying in. The fire commissioner says the cause of the fire is still being investigated. The mayor of Chester offers the city is working to determine whether the building was in compliance with code.