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Protests Held Near Scene Of Deadly Fire In Southwest Philadelphia

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By Todd Quinones, Dan Wing and Tim Jimenez

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hundreds of people gathered in front of a firehouse in Southwest Philadelphia Monday night, demanding answers for what they call a slow response to Saturday’s fatal fire on Gesner Street (See Previous Story).

A lot of anger and frustration boiled over in the streets of Southwest Philadelphia. Protestors marched on the very same fire station that responded to Saturday’s deadly fire.

The emotional demonstration lasted several hours in the area of 65th and Woodland Streets, with tensions high as a line of police looked on.

Police officers clashed with protestors at times. Several people were detained as some shouted, calling firefighters murderers.

A woman suffered an apparent seizure during the protests. Seeing the woman lying in the street touched even more anger, as police officers put her into the back of a police car and took her to the hospital.

Early Saturday morning, four young children of Liberian descent were killed in a quick moving fire.

The three-alarm fire broke out on the porch of the home on the 6500 block of Gesner Street.

Many people in this Liberian community are angry. This man did not want his face shown.

“I’m not happy because we are not getting any answer. We are not getting an answer from the fire department,” the protestor said.

Protestors believe firefighters should’ve gotten to the fire sooner.

The fire station is just a few hundred yards away, essentially right around the corner from the home where the children were killed.

The fire department indicates the first firefighters were on scene in three minutes, which is under the required response time.

“The fire station is so close, and so some of the logistics of getting the call and responding to a fire and the speed of a fire, I think people are upset because they feel like those lives should not have been lost,” Liberian community activist Christian Dunbar said.

WATCH: City Officials Hold Press Conference On Deadly Fire In Southwest Philadelphia

As KYW Newsradio’s Tim Jimenez reports, some residents say it took up to a half an hour for firefighters to respond. Mayor Michael Nutter, joined by Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer and other officials say that’s not the case, Ladder 4 Engine 40, arrived within a few minutes.

“Based on the data and information that is available, that engine and ladder company responded immediately, they fought valiantly,” the Mayor said.

“They responded literally within five to six minutes which is faster, only because if you’ve been at the scene, it’s 245 yards away from the matter. They responded, they dropped everything, they got there. Unfortunately we still suffered a loss,” Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison said.

Mayor Nutter says after the fire there have been, in his words, a series of rumors, innuendo, accusation and lies about the fire department response.

“I am hurt that we lost four children but do not point a finger at a Philadelphia firefighter as the reason why,” he said.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer says firefighters have been verbally threatened because of the children’s deaths.

“Their hearts are broken. It’s no way, no how, that these members would not respond in a timely manner to save life,” Sawyer said.

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.

Police say two people were arrested for disorderly conduct and released.

The woman who suffered an apparent seizure was in stable condition in the hospital Monday evening.

The cause of the deadly fire is still under investigation.

It’s not clear if there were working smoke detectors in the house at the time.

The Philadelphia Fire Department indicates they handed out 40 working smoke detectors along the block in 2013, including two working smoke detectors in the home where the fire began.

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