City officials on Tuesday continued to battle allegations that fire crews were slow to respond to Saturday’s deadly blaze in Southwest Philly, releasing 911 tapes to back their point. Meanwhile, the Liberian ambassador to the United States visited the scene of the fire, which took place in a part of the city populated largely by immigrants from his country.
In one of the calls, an unidentified man tells dispatchers, “somebody’s couch is on fire, out on the porch, connected to a house though.”
Fire dispatchers then sent a single engine company to the fire, classified as a rubbish fire, but two minutes later the assignment was upgraded to a full first alarm assignment bringing extra equipment.
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer revealed the first ladder company, Ladder 4, a block away, was on the scene in 21 seconds. All other companies in less than five minutes.
Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said at an afternoon news conference that the city was releasing recordings of the calls – as well as a second-by-second account of the response to the blaze – to address misinformation that firefighters had been slow to respond.
When Liberian Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh walked through the scene of the deadly fire on the 6500 block of Gesner Street late Tuesday, he said he felt the full weight of the tragedy that occurred on the Southwest Philadelphia block.
“I feel very, very horrible,” he said while standing on the charred porch of 6518 Gesner. “I feel like I was also part of this thing. I feel like that day I was sitting here when four innocent little children died; not at their campus, not at their daycare, but at their home.”
The goal of his visit, Sulunteh said, was to get to the bottom of the cause of the fire, find a working solution to prevent similar tragedies from occurring, and to keep members of the Liberian community calm.