Liberian Ambassador Meeting With City After Deadly Gesner Street Fire

The Ambassador of Liberia is meeting with Philadelphia city leaders on Wednesday to discuss tensions between the Liberian community in Southwest Philadelphia and city agencies after this weekend's deadly fire that killed four children.

Ambassador Jeremiah Suluteh is sitting down with members of Philadelphia City Council, Mayor Michael Nutter's administration, the Pa. State Senate and Human Relations Commission at 10 a.m. inside City Hall.

The meeting is part of a two-day visit in light of strained relations between Liberian immigrants and the city following Saturday's massive fire along the 6500 block of Gesner Street. The early morning fire claimed the lives of four children, destroyed eight homes and left nearly 40 people without a place to live. The fire cause remains unclear.

A number of community members have argued that firefighters were late to respond to the fire. Some claimed it took crews up to 30 minutes to start fighting the blaze. A volatile protest outside the local firehouse led to the arrest of three people.

However, the city says the response was appropriate and denied delays saying the first crews arrived in 3 minutes. Officials released 911 dispatch data and calls on Tuesday to back up their dispute.

Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer pointed to the first emergency calls that stated several homes were already burning when the call came in. He said the entire block would have burnt to the ground should firefighters have taken 30 minutes to respond.

Suluteh toured the devastation along Gesner Street on Tuesday and likened the partially hollowed-out block to a "war zone."

"This reminds me of my own situation back home. When I stepped out there I thought I was back in a war zone where innocent children were slaughtered," he said. "It breaks my heart."

He also met with fire victims and community leaders to learn what their issues are and plans to bring them up with the city today.

"The message is, the first thing is to keep calm and to engage the government to see how in the future how can we protect our children," the ambassador said.

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