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Fire Officials Release 911 Tapes In Fatal Southwest Philadelphia Blaze

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By Walt Hunter and Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Fire Officials have now released the 911 tapes of the first calls received alerting the fire department to a fire in the 6500 block of Gesner Street Saturday morning that killed four children (see previous story).

In one of the calls, an unidentified man tells dispatchers, “somebody’s couch is on fire, out on the porch, connected to a house though.”

Fire dispatchers then sent a single engine company to the fire, classified as a rubbish fire, but two minutes later the assignment was upgraded to a full first alarm assignment bringing extra equipment.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer revealed the first ladder company, Ladder 4, a block away, was on the scene in 21 seconds. All other companies in less than five minutes.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer at podium. (credit: Pat Loeb/KYW)

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer at podium. (credit: Pat Loeb/KYW)

Officials say they released the data to correct rumors and incorrect information following a community protest outside the neighborhood firehouse at 65th and Woodland Avenues Monday night (another related story).

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison says he understands the community is traumatized but he believes they simply don’t understand what firefighters actually did.

“To criticize this department is not fair, it’s not the facts, and that’s what we’re putting in front of you,” Gillison said.

The Commissioner emphasized that the initial classification of the fire as a rubbish response had no impact.

“A fire is a fire is a fire,” the Commissioner told reporters at a press conference at fire headquarters. “We respond to all of them, rubbish fires or dwelling fires.”

City officials also confirmed they believe a delay in notifying ‘911’ by neighbors who tried to fight the fire themselves may have given the fire a head start.

Officials stated as of now the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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