For City of Philadelphia firemen to get to the fire that killed four children on Fourth of July weekend any faster would have required a cape, city officials said.
By Denise Clay
That’s how much time it took for Ladder 4 to get to a fire that ultimately killed four children and left nine houses burned in its wake.
Four children—twins Maria and Marialla Bowah, 4, Patrick Sanyeah, 4, and Taj Jacque, 1½,– were killed in the fire, which also burned down nine rowhouses and was possibly caused by a burning couch in front of one of the residences in the Elmwood section of the city..
At a news conference on Tuesday, city officials including Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, and City Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer gave reporter and by extension the public a timeline showing how long it took for firefighters to start fighting the fire.
Firefighters arrived at the fire at 6517 Gesner Ave. at 2:48 a.m., one minute after they were notified of the fire, which was around the corner from their fire house at 65th and Woodland. Residents have accused firefighters of taking 30 minutes to get to the blaze.
Commission Sawyer vigorously disputed that claim.
“That fire went from three to eight houses in 10 minutes,” he said. “If that had been 30 minutes, the entire block would have burned down. You cannot get there quicker than a minute. That’s not humanly possible. You’re asking our heroes to be super heroes.”
The press conference took place one day after a community meeting in Southwest Philadelphia escalated into a protest in front of the fire station at 65th and Woodland and led to arrests.
Among the things that were shared with reporters at the press conference was the GPS timeline of the response to the fire. A 911 dispatcher received a call at 2:44.58 for what was described at the time as a rubbish fire, Sawyer said. Since the fire engine at 65th and Woodland, the truck that carries water, was at a car fire, an engine from two hours away was dispatched, he said.
At 2:47.24, a firefighter from the 65th and Woodland station called 911 after walking around the corner and seeing that things were worse than thought on Gesner Street, Sawyer said. More firefighters and equipment were dispatched, he said.
The urgency in the firefighter’s voice should stand as a contradiction to charges that there was a lack of care in this instance, Gillison said.
“The men and women who fought this fire did what they could,” he said. “To criticize them for that is unfair.”
The tragedy has garnered attention from across the country, attracting local rapper Meek Mill and Jeremiah Sulunteh, Liberia’s ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Sulunteh joined Cong. Bob Brady in touring the neighborhood and talking with members of the community.
An investigation into the fire is continuing.