SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — One firefighter died, another was critically injured and a third suffered less serious burns while battling a fire in San Francisco’s Diamond Heights neighborhood Thursday.
Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, who had been with the SFFD for 21 years, died at San Francisco General Hospital after going into cardiac arrest, according to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
She said firefighter/paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53, was in “very critical condition” – fighting for his life, and a third firefighter, a woman not named, was treated at the hospital for smoke inhalation and minor burns before being released.
KCBS’ Anna Duckworth Reports:
A sudden surge of flames during a heat explosion, known as a “flashover,” was to blame for leaving two of the three firefighters unconscious with severe burns inside a burning four-story home on a slope in the 100 block of Berkeley Way, SFFD Lt. Mindy Talmadge said.
The deadly blaze started on the first floor of the home about 10:45 a.m. and quickly spread to the second story, according to firefighters.
Talmadge indicated that firefighters saw a flash while inside the home. Around that time, a heat alarm on one of the firefighters’ uniforms was activated, she said.
When commanders on the outside tried to reach the firefighters by radio, there was no response. Additional crew members were sent in, and they found Perez and Valerio down and “pretty badly burned,” Talmadge said.
KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:
The female injured firefighter was able to exit the home on her own, she said.
Four residents were inside the home when the blaze started, but authorities said they were all able to escape without injury.
About 30 firefighters battled the blaze, which was finally extinguished shortly before noon. The cause was under investigation.
SFFD’s chief said Thursday’s firefighter death in line of duty was the first in the city since January 2003, when 40-year-old Melinda Ohler died after falling from a fire engine responding to a call.
“It’s a tough day in San Francisco,” said an emotional Hayes-White. “The Fire Department is like a family. We lost a family member today.”
She said Perez was a classmate of hers when they entered the department’s academy in 1990. Perez had also previously served as a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and as a U.S. Marine.
“His whole life was spent serving the community,” the chief said. “Our hearts are heavy and they will be for a long time.”
Mayor Ed Lee offered his condolences and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at all city buildings and grounds.
“This reminds all of us how dangerous this job is… we are reminded of the sacrifices firefighters and their families make each day to keep our city safe,” Lee said.
Tom O’Connor, president of the San Francisco firefighters union, said fires in the Diamond Heights area are especially hard to fight.
“All houses are kind of upside down,” with a story or two at the street level and at least one or two more down the hillside, O’Connor said.
“If things go wrong, you’re in the worst possible area” since the flames will shoot upward from the lower levels of the home, he said.
The last time a San Francisco firefighter died battling a house fire in Diamond Heights was March 9, 1995, according to CBS 5 archives.
The deceased in that case was one of several injured firefighters who were trapped inside a burning home on a hill at 75 Everson Street.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)