Response timeline released in fatal SW Phila. fire

WPVI logo
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
VIDEO: Response timeline released in fatal SW Philly fire
EMBED <>More Videos

Officials released a response timeline from the fatal Southwest Philadelphia fire that claimed the lives of four young children.

SOUTHWEST PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Officials released a response timeline from the fatal Southwest Philadelphia fire that claimed the lives of four young children. This comes after claims from furious residents that firefighters did not respond fast enough.

2:44 a.m. First 911 call came in

2:46 a.m. Fire department sends an engine to 6500 Gesner Street

2:47 a.m. Firefighter on watch at fire station calls and asks for a Box Alarm

2:49 a.m. Ladder 4 arrives at 6500 Gesner Street

2:50 a.m. Engine 40 leaves a car fire

2:51 a.m. Engine 40 arrives at 6500 Gesner Street

2:52 a.m. Engine 68 arrives at 6500 Gesner Street

2:52 a.m. Ladder 4 orders the 2nd alarm

Jeff Boone is the resident who made that first call. His 911 call took center stage Tuesday as Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer gave a detailed timeline of firefighters' response.

Boone, who also lost his home, said he grabbed a fire extinguisher but when it didn't work, he ran around the corner to Ladder 4 Engine 40.

"By the time I got here to the other side of the block. They already started putting their pants on and loading the trucks up," said Boone.

On Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Sawyer addressed accusations that firefighters took 30 minutes to respond and maintained that crews were on scene within three minutes.

"That incident went from three houses to eight houses in 10 minutes so if that fire had been burning for 30 minutes like everyone said, the whole block would have burned down," said Commissioner Sawyer.

The fast moving 3-alarm blaze broke out Saturday, July 5th on the 6500 block of Gesner Street.

4-year-old twins Marie and Maria Boawah, 4-year-old Patrick Sanyeah, and 1-month-old Taj Jacque were trapped inside and died in the blaze. There were also multiple injuries.

Two 4-year-old twins Marie and Maria Boawah both died when a 3-alarm fire tore through a rowhome in Southwest Philadelphia on Saturday, July 5, 2014.
Brothers 4-year-old Patrick Sanyeah and 1-month-old Taj Jacque both died when a 3-alarm fire tore through a rowhome in Southwest Philadelphia on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

The fire department says that first call came in at 2:44 a.m. and 1 minute, 8 seconds later, the first engine was dispatched.

Less than 1 minute later, a firefighter from the nearby fire house called for reinforcements.

After that, 1 minute, 27 seconds later, Ladder 4 arrived.

That was nearly 3 minutes after the initial call but residents say it wasn't equipped to handle the massive blaze.

"When they did get on the block, they made sure everybody else was trying to get down toward the block and get everyone out of their houses, I can't deny them that. As far as the first truck showing up and not having the water, that's their main problem," said Boone.

The engine from the nearby fire station was at a car fire but arrived 6 minutes after the first 911 call.

As for how long it took to get water on the fire, the city says that's under investigation.

"These gentleman, these women did what they could but to criticize this department is not fair, it's not the facts and that's what we're putting in front of you," said Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.

Community outrage

Patrick Sanyeah is the father of the two young boys who died. He is upset that the mayor and other city officials were quick to defend the fire department's response.

"Of course I understand that he wants to defend the fire people, but make the family feel better first, or look into it - a further investigation," he said.

Sanyeah is also frustrated that fire investigators haven't determined the cause.

"I want to know if it's a murder or an incident. If it is murder, I want somebody to go to court to give me some answers because I am hurting," he said.

In the days following the tragic fire, tensions in the community continued to rise.

On Monday night after a community meeting, police were called in to break up a group of nearly 200 protesters when riots broke out at Ladder 4 Engine 40.

The protests shut down Woodland Avenue near 65th Street and even blocked fire crews as they tried to leave and respond to a call.

Several people were arrested.

Into Monday evening, as the protests moved to the scene of the fire, city officials continued to maintain that firefighters should not be blamed.

"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 Michael Nutter on Monday.

Many of the demonstrators are from Liberia, Africa.

Dahn Dennis, the head of the Liberian Association of Pennsylvania, says he understands the questions coming from the community but a violent protest isn't the way to get answers.

"We are asking the kids, the youth to stay calm and give time to schedule a meeting with city officials to make sure we come to some level of understanding so that some of the questions, some of the concerns they have been passing onto us can be addressed," said Dennis.

Meanwhile, the investigation into what sparked the fire is still underway. There are reports are that children were tossing lit fireworks near a front porch sofa before the blaze erupted but fire officials have not yet determined the exact cause.

How to help the fire victims

If you would like to help the victims:

You can drop off clothing or other items at Christ International Baptist Church located at 2210 South 65th Street.

The church will not accept financial contributions.

To donate money, visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.