NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — At CBS 2’s request, 911 tapes were released Monday documenting frantic calls for help as a fire raged through a Newark home earlier this month, leaving six people dead.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the tapes raised questions about the response by the Newark Fire Department to the blaze, which broke out just before 4 a.m. Father’s Day, June 15, in a house on South 15th Street.
From the moment news broke about the horror in Newark, neighbors complained about a sluggish response to calls for help. The fire was reported by frantic residents to a 911 operator who then transferred the call to a fire dispatcher.
Adrenaline and fear made communication difficult.
Operator: “Newark Fire.”
Caller: “There’s a house on fire!”
Operator: “OK, what is the address ma’am?”
Operator: “Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, listen don’t scream, don’t scream.”
Operator: “No what street, what street?”
Operator: “I cannot understand you. What street? Slowly.”
Caller:“15th Street and Madison Avenue…”
Operator: “52 Madison?”
Caller: “15. 1-5 in front of my house.”
Second Operator: “Fire, she’s saying 15th Street and Madison Avenue.”
Operator: “OK, that’s what I thought.”
Newark Engine 18 was the first unit to respond. It is close to the scene – so close that CBS 2 crews drove from the firehouse to the scene in all of 45 seconds without breaking the speed limit.
But the calls were still coming in four minutes later.
Caller: “Can you send the fire department to South 15th street and Madison? The house is really burning up.”
Another call came in six minutes later.
Caller: “Fifteenth and Madison — we need the fire department. The whole house is burning!”
More calls came nine and 10 minutes later.
Caller: “There’s a fire!”
Operator: “OK, they’re en route now.”
Caller:: “Oh, God.”
Caller: “Oh, man.”
It was unclear exactly when units got the orders to roll. Newark firefighters were under the impression that they arrived in two minutes, but the tape seemed to indicate a different story, Young reported.
Salome Stewart and her husband, Reginald Stewart, both 58, were killed in the fire, along with Salome Stewart’s sister, 47-year-old Natasha Kinsale, who all lived in the house.
Three visiting family members – Noreen “Michelle” Johnson and her son, Stephon Sydney, 15, of Crawford, Georgia; and 11-year-old Zion Forbes, of East Orange, also died.
The day after the tragedy, family members and neighbors complained about what they perceived as a certain lack of urgency.
“It was already in flames for a long time by the time they got here, and then when they got here, they didn’t respond and try to put the fire out fast enough,” witness Iminah May said a day after the fire.
A spokesman for the Newark Fire Department declined to comment on the tapes or the apparent response time.
He said the inquiry into the fire was being handled by the Essex County Prosecutor’s office, which had yet to comment Monday evening.
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