Dad to Philly Firefighters: 'You let Four Kids Burn Into Ashes'

Residents are complaining about the response time to a fire where four children perished.


July 08--Patrick Sanyeah was in the thick of an angry protest for much of Monday. But unlike most others there, his loss was deeply personal and devastating.

Two of the victims in Saturday's fatal rowhouse fire in Southwest Philadelphia were his children, Patrick, 4, and Taj Jacque, who was less than two months old.

"The Fire Department, right here, you let four kids burn into ashes," he said during the protest, wiping away tears as he chanted with the crowd.

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City officials defended the Fire Department's response -- in a community meeting, on the street ravaged by Saturday's fire, and, near day's end, in a City Hall news conference that drew Mayor Nutter, the fire commissioner, and others.

But in the neighborhood shaken by the weekend's tragedy, few people seemed convinced. The crowd loudly and at times angrily demanded answers, its numbers surging and waning depending on the time of day and the location.

One woman suffered a seizure on Woodland Avenue, the scene of one tense gathering, and was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She was said to be in stable condition Monday night.

Another woman, whom some identified as Elenor Jacque, the mother of the two boys, was pushed to the ground by an officer as she ran toward a man being taken away by police. Shaken, she was comforted by onlookers and left the street soon afterward.

Police formed a line in front of a fire station a block from the scene of the blaze as the crowd quieted. At one point, a group walked back to Gesner Street, scene of the fire, and stood on the porches of the ravaged houses, clapping, chanting, and lighting candles on the steps.

"We feel like we have no rights," said Fifi Davis, 19, whose aunt Dewen Bowah was home when the fire broke out in her house on Gesner. Bowah got three children out but could not reach the two boys and her twin daughters Maria and Marialla Bowah, 4, who also perished.

"Everybody is frustrated," Davis said.

Some were dismayed by the evening's events.

"This is not Gesner Street, not at all," said block captain Tyrone Watson. "Let us lay the dead to rest. The families displaced, let's get them settled."

By 9 p.m., Sanyeah and a group of friends and relatives were speaking with a battalion chief and Mark Resnick, the city director of public safety, who handed out business cards and promised protesters he would meet with them about their concerns.

Police remained on hand as firefighters clustered at the door of the station, watching the protest die down.

"I understand they want to be heard. That's their right," said Lt. Joe Galie of the 12th District. "They have every right to peacefully protest. But the Fire Department may have to get out" to answer a fire call.

awhelan@philly.com 215-854-2961 @aubreyjwhelan

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