PHILADELPHIA – Two people were arrested Monday night after residents gathered outside a fire station to protest what they say was a delayed response to a weekend row house fire that killed four young children.
About 200 residents turned out at the fire station after an afternoon community meeting to demand answers on firefighters' response to the blaze, which destroyed eight homes in Southwest Philadelphia. The protest drew dozens of police officers and resulted in several clashes.
Residents, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with photos of the children, chanted "liars" outside the fire station, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The protest escalated when a ladder truck was apparently trying to move out of the firehouse and several people laid down on the street, blocking its path, according to the newspaper. Officers moved in and grabbed them by their legs to pull them back.
Two protesters were taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct, Officer Christine O'Brien said. She said no police officers or civilians were injured during the protest.
The protesters claim firefighters didn't respond as fast as they could to the blaze, which erupted Saturday shortly before 3 a.m. Flames quickly spread from row house to row house, engulfing at least 10. Some residents jumped from second-floor windows, but the four children were unable to escape.
Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer says that despite some lag time because the initial report had been for a rubbish fire, the first unit was on the scene within three minutes. He said wildly incorrect rumors spread through the neighborhood that 30 minutes had passed before fire engines with water were on the scene.
"Our men and women gave the best," he told reporters Monday night. "They gave their all. They did nothing wrong."
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire. One witness said he saw a couch on a porch on fire and saw the flames spread to other residences.