Grief Over Fire Triggers Massive Protest

In Southwest Philly, a confrontation between residents and public safety officials.

This is how it looked last night: Like the bad old days.

As many as 200 Southwest Philly protesters massed outside a neighborhood firehouse Monday night — several people were arrested — saying that fire crews took 30 minutes to respond to Saturday’s fatal blaze that gutted eight homes and killed four small children. In an evening press conference, city officials said the first responders were on the scene within five minutes of the fire being reported.

NBC 10 reports:

At least three people were arrested and a woman was hospitalized after angry residents gathered outside a Southwest Philly firehouse to protest what they believe was a delayed response to a multi-home fire that killed four young children.

Around 200 people protested outside the Engine 40 & Ladder 4 firehouse on 6438 Woodland Avenue on Monday around 6:25 p.m. The protest spiraled out of control and nearly turned into a riot as the crowd turned hostile, with some members of the crowd even hurling water bottles at police at one point.

6ABC adds:

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, Mayor Michael Nutter and other city officials addressed the outrage during a press conference.

“The members of the Philadelphia Fire Department, in particular the members on Engine 40, ladder 4 responded in a very timely fashion to this fire. Any other information put out by individuals that indicates otherwise is absolutely, positively, directly incorrect,” said Mayor Nutter.

“Their hearts are broken. There is no way, no how these members would not respond in a timely manner to save lives,” said Commissioner Sawyer.

The Inquirer:

Fire Department records indicate that (the original) 911 call was transferred to the department’s call center at 2:45:01 a.m. Forty-three seconds later, the call was entered into the system as a rubbish fire by a call-taker and sent to a dispatcher.

Because ladder trucks do not report to trash fires, the firefighters stationed around the corner were not immediately called to respond, the records show. Instead, a fire engine based at a station two miles away was sent.

If the fire had originally been deemed more serious, the firefighters in the ladder truck at the nearby station would have been deployed immediately, which could have permitted rescue attempts, one high-ranking department official said. The engine that was at the car fire could also have been redeployed sooner, the official said.

CBS Philly:

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison says they’ll meet with community leaders to share the response timeline. Firefighters Union President Joe Schulle says, after listening to the dispatch tapes, they stand by the response. Officials say those tapes will be released to the public.

Into the evening, protestors marched in front of the house that was destroyed. Many were still shouting as community leaders were asking for calm.

“Most of the kids are trying to vent out their frustrations for what happened and what took place, but again we want to do it the best way possible. Not this way,” Dahn Dennis of the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania said.