Fire department defends Gesner Street response: ‘One minute is not unreasonable’

Lillian Rodriguez, in green, stands in front of her burnt out home after a fire on the 6500 block of Gessner St. in Southwest Philadelphia that killed four children and made 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro Lillian Rodriguez, in green, stands in front of her burnt out home on Sunday, July 6, a day after a fire tore through the 6500 block of Gesner St. in Southwest Philadelphia, killing four children and leaving 42 people homeless. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

The Philadelphia Fire Department this afternoon released 911 call transcripts and the timeline of when firefighters responded to a fatal weekend fire in Southwest Philly, after residents of Gesner Street publicly blamed the city for the fire.

“One minute is not unreasonable,” Fire Department Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said after releasing records that showed firefighters arrived at the scene one minute after receiving the call from dispatch.”It’s important to quell the rumors.”

According to the Fire Department, the first 911 call regarding the fire came in at 2:45 a.m. from a caller who stated, “Somebody’s couch on fire, out on the porch, connected to a house though.”

At 2:47 a.m., a second 911 call was received from a woman saying that four houses were on fire.

Also at 2:47 a.m., firefighters from the station across the street, which houses Ladder 4, Engine 40 and Medic 19, called in to the Fire Communications Center saying the fire had spread to “a couple houses” and asking for the fire to be upgraded to a “Box” — meaning a fire that will be responded to with multiple fire engines and firefighters.

Firefighters from Ladder 4 arrived on the scene at 2:49 a.m. Ladder companies perform search, rescue, and ventilation. Two minutes later at 2:51 a.m., Engine 40, which has the pump needed to spray water, and is also known as Pipeline 40 because it is equipped with a larger and longer firehose, arrived at the scene.

The information, based on GPS locators inside the firefighters’ trucks, was released in part due to angry protests that took place in the neighborhood on Monday evening.

An estimated 200 residents from around the area of 65th Street and Woodland Terrace protested and hurled accusations at police and firefighters. Many wore T-shirts with the pictures of the three 4-year-olds and 1-month-old baby who died during the blaze, printed with the words “An Unnecessary Tragedy.”

The protesters reportedly questioned the response time of firefighters. Some residents of Gesner Street have claimed that firefighters took as long as 30 minutes to respond to the blaze, which tore through eight rowhouses after lighting up just before 3 a.m. on Saturday, July 5.

“I can understand what the community feels — but I think it comes from misunderstanding what our heroes [firefighters] did,” said Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison at the press conference. “To criticize this department is not fair — it’s not the facts.”

Some neighbors claimed firefighters did not arrive for as long as 30 and even 45 minutes, Gillison acknowledged.

While the origin and cause of the fire are still under investigation, officials said a resident tried to fight the fire with a fire extinguisher, which may have caused a delay between the fire igniting and the first 911 calls.

“I don’t know how long this young man fought the fire,” Gillison said. “I know he felt he was doing the right thing. But … if you see a fire, report the fire. Don’t worry about being a hero. We have heroes — they’re the men and women that wear these uniforms.”

911 call excerpts

2:45 a.m.
Caller: Somebody’s couch on fire, out on the porch, connected to a house though.
Dispatch: Alright someone’s on the way.

2:47 a.m.
Caller: [There’s] four houses on fire 6517 Gesner Street!
Dispatch: Ok, alright.
Caller: Alright please hurry.

2:47 a.m.
Caller [a firefighter from the 65th Street Station]: Upgrade Gesner to a Box please.
Dispatch: Gesner?
Caller: This is Pipeline 40, we just walked across the street, Gesner is a couple houses looks like.
Dispatch: OK.

Source: PFD

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