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Newark Officials Insist Response Time To Deadly Father’s Day Blaze Wasn’t Slow

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NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Nearly three weeks after a house fire killed six people, the Newark Fire Department is rejecting claims of slow response time, CBS 2′s Lou Young reported.

Newark fire officials say they’ve double-checked their records and are certain the department responded quickly — arriving on the scene in two minutes — to the Father’s Day blaze on South 15th Street at Madison Avenue in the Central Ward.

911 audio released Monday at CBS 2′s request documented the frustration of numerous callers as the building burned.

In a statement released Thursday, Newark’s fire director expressed annoyance at the suggestion that firefighters were in any way slow to the scene. He said they received a lot of calls in a short period of time and moved as quickly as they could.

He said he is “still confident that the original response time (of two minutes) given to the media was accurate.”

Neighbors whom CBS 2 spoke with said if there was any delay, they don’t blame the Fire Department.

“A lot of people did complain it took a while for 911 to respond, not the Fire Department,” said Jianna Diggs. “When the Fire Department got here, they did what they could do.”

The nearest fire house in just a 45-second drive away, Young reported.

Although CBS 2 was not provided with an official time line for the calls, fire officials suggested the use of cellphones may have caused some callers not to get through immediately.

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.

Authorities said plastic flowers that had been placed in front of the house and on the porch might have been a conduit for the blaze.

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.

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