Bronx, NY – Residents brawled with New York police outside the scene of an apartment building fire on Tuesday night, as the officers tried to keep the crowd back so firefighters could battle the flames.
The fire broke out inside an apartment kitchen on the top floor of the Grand Concourse complex at approximately 4:30 p.m., WNBC reported.
“We heard screaming, my mom opened the door and all you see was smoke and she said get out,” one resident told WCBS.
Over 100 firefighters were dispatched to the scene as tenants scrambled from their smoke-filled apartments and fled down fire escapes, WNBC reported.
Police responded to the scene to help clear a path through the crowds so the firefighters could get in and out of the building more quickly.
“It was a very advanced fire on the top floor,” New York Deputy Fire Chief Joe Donlevy explained to WCBS. “It takes a long time for us to get all our equipment up there to fight the fire.”
But instead of allowing first responders to do their jobs, some people in the crowd refused to comply with the officers’ requests to back away and clear a pathway.
Danny Rodriguez said he was returning home from work when he realized the building was on fire.
“Me and my brother looking for my mom, panicked, we get to the middle of the street and I look back and see my brother and another neighbor getting pushed by the officers…‘get to the sidewalk, get to the sidewalk,’” Rodriguez told WCBS. “As soon as my brother refused, the officers started pushing my brother.”
As Rodriguez’s brother, later identified as 18-year-old Angelo Rodriguez, was being taken into custody, their mother suddenly attacked one of the officers, WCBS reported.
Raquel Dejesus, 39, managed to rip the officer’s bodycam off during the ensuing brawl, and hurled the equipment to the ground, police said.
Another suspect threw a carton of milk at the officers, then fled the scene, WNBC reported.
Dejesus and Angelo were both arrested on multiple charges, including criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, according to WCBS.
Two city sheriff’s deputies and five firefighters were transported to the hospital with minor injuries, some of which were due to smoke inhalation.
“It is becoming impossible for police officers to do our job, even in emergency situations,” Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said in a statement to WCBS on Wednesday. “At a fire scene, our role is to clear the area so that firefighters can contain the fire and prevent loss of life. This crowd didn’t care: they wanted to fight the cops who were there to help.”
“Thankfully everybody made it out this time, but our city leaders need to wake up,” Lynch continued. “If they keep encouraging cop-hatred and interference with our duties, lives will be lost because we were prevented from doing our job.”
Residents living in at least five of the apartments have been displaced in the wake of the blaze, but most of the building’s other tenants were allowed to return to their homes, according to the fire department.
You can see video from the scene below: