State investigators have cited the San Francisco Fire Department for “serious” worker safety violations in the deaths of two firefighters killed battling a Diamond Heights house fire in June. Reports were published in the San Francisco Chronical, HERE and HERE.
Firefighters lost track of Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53, after they went into the four-level home at 133 Berkeley Way on June 2 and failed to respond quickly to the men’s last radio communication, investigators with the state Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health said in a report issued Monday.
In recommending that the Fire Department be fined $21,000, the state investigators also said the department had violated state rules requiring that two firefighters be designated outside to assist any two firefighters who venture into a life-threatening environment.
Only one firefighter from Perez and Valerio’s engine company – the first on the scene – was available to come to their help during the blaze, the investigation found.
The state also cited the Fire Department for an incident – evidently before the fatal flareup – in which an unidentified battalion chief ventured into the burning building alone, without keeping in contact with Perez and Valerio. That was also deemed a serious violation of safety rules.
“These are serious in that they had protocols in place, but they weren’t following them,” said Erika Monterroza, spokeswoman for the worker safety agency. “There’s no question that a lack of communications was a big issue here. The investigator found there was a breakdown there.”
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said the department would appeal the findings. She said state officials have told her commanders that the violations fell short of finding the department’s actions responsible for the two firefighters’ deaths. “None of the citations involved a direct cause of the line-of-duty deaths,” Hayes-White said. Monterroza confirmed that, saying the exact circumstances of the firefighters’ deaths could not be determined.
Valerio, Perez and a third member of Engine Company 26 in Diamond Heights were the first firefighters to arrive at the mid-morning blaze, which started when a sparking electrical outlet set curtains on fire.
The third firefighter manned the pumper hose while Valerio and Perez went inside to fight the fire, but the safety regulations require a fourth firefighter to be available outside to assist.
A scene commander, identified by firefighters as Battalion Chief Thomas Abbott, ordered a crew from Engine Company 24 to back up Valerio and Perez inside the building. For several minutes, however, scene commanders tried to find the Engine 26 firefighters, without success.
There was an unspecified gap between that last communication and any effort by firefighters to respond over the radio or track down the men, the state investigation found.
The reports goes on to state that Hayes-White said the department’s investigative report – still in draft form – concluded that the fire had melted one of the firefighters’ microphone cords, cutting off communications. She said any delay in firefighters’ response would be addressed in the final report.
Firefighters ultimately found Perez and Valerio in a landing area and carried the injured men outside. Perez was pronounced dead at San Francisco General Hospital, and Valerio died there two days later.
The state probe also faulted the actions of the unnamed battalion chief who went into the building “alone and also did not remain in contact with the firefighters who were inside.”
Hayes-White said the battalion chief had gone inside only briefly, had seen Perez and Valerio alive and had never been out of other firefighters’ view.
Previous Coverage on CommandSafety.com below:
- 2nd San Francisco Firefighter Dies After Diamond Heights Fire
- San Francisco FD: The Diamond Heights Fire Updates
- Flags at the NFFF Memorial; SFFD LODD