Fatal fire's other victims

TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Firefighters who responded to the Southwest Philly fire on July 5 are still facing blame despite released 9-1-1 logs and calls.
TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Firefighters who responded to the Southwest Philly fire on July 5 are still facing blame despite released 9-1-1 logs and calls.
Posted: July 11, 2014

THE WORST moment Monday night was when grief-fueled residents, filled with frustration and false information, blocked Ladder 4 from leaving the fire station near 65th and Woodland.

They potentially put other neighbors' lives at risk.

Cops had to break it up. Things got ugly.

Neighbors blockading a firehouse was new to me.

Police districts, yes. City Council district offices, sure. City Hall, of course.

But a firehouse?

That was the worst moment Monday night. The worst moment Saturday morning was the loss of four young lives, for which some neighbors blamed the firefighters, calling them "murderers."

Murderers.

It's hard to think of a more disgusting thing to call firefighters, who live to save lives. Remember the 9/11 firefighters running into burning buildings?

The understandable grief and anger of friends and family doesn't justify blindly lashing out at people who are not at fault.

Some residents were animated by a rumor that it took firefighters 30 minutes to arrive. Eyewitnesses and logs demonstrate that is untrue. The entire block would have been incinerated had the delay been that long.

Even after the city had released 9-1-1 logs and calls, some nitwits clung to the false rumors like cherished family photos.

Firefighters didn't stop for a beer on their way to Gesner Street. The ladder company rolled almost immediately; the engine company was a few blocks away fighting a car fire. Another engine arrived within the limits set by the National Fire Protection Association.

"This is one of our busier houses," Firefighters Local 22 president Joe Schulle told me. The motivated firefighters are there "because they want to fight fires."

Neither the Fire Department nor the union would let me speak with the firefighters for fear of setting off the irrational members of the community.

Wednesday, a day after the city released the 9-1-1 timeline and 9-1-1 tapes, some of these dopes were still parroting the half-hour delay falsehood and demanding an apology from the mayor.

Firefighters "all carry emotional scars because of fatalities," Schulle said, "especially when it's kids because you see their faces in your kids' faces."

Losing those lives takes firefighters' "emotional distress to another level," he told me.

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What is the source of the craziness?

Are we so deeply invested in a culture of victimization that people are blinded to facts?

Are people so ill-educated they have no idea about how to assemble and process information?

Is this a reflection of the growing chasm between government and the governed?

Are we turning into a city of idiots?

What happened on Gesner Street was a tragedy and the loss of adjacent houses a disaster for the families living there.

The fire started after 2:30 a.m. in a sofa on the porch. The fire marshal will likely pinpoint the precise cause of the blaze, although the Fire Department told me yesterday it doesn't know when.

One thing I do know: This wasn't spontaneous combustion. Some community resident probably had a hand in starting that fire, accidentally or not, in the sofa.

It wasn't the men of Ladder 4 and Engine 40.

They, too, live with scars from the fire.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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