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In Wake Of Big Blaze, SFFD, PG&E Seek Improved Cooperation

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SFFD firefighters cut into the roof of a burning building on San Bruno Avenue. (CBS)

SFFD firefighters cut into the roof of a burning building on San Bruno Avenue. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Following a four-alarm fire in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood more than a week ago that injured a construction worker who had hit a gas line, PG&E and fire officials met Thursday to review response to the resulting blaze.

On Thursday, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and San Francisco fire officials met with Nick Stavropoulos, PG&E executive vice president of gas operations, and other top officials, to discuss coordinated efforts to fight the fire that spread to a neighboring building which housed a dental office in the 2800 block of San Bruno Avenue. That Fire burned for nearly three hours the afternoon of June 13 before it was extinguished at 6:30 p.m.

A review of the incident determined the construction worker in the vacant building was using a welding torch for repairs to the building’s sprinkler connection when the worker accidentally ignited a gas line, according to fire officials.

Hayes-White and Stavropoulos acknowledged at Thursday’s meeting that the building contractor could have avoided the accident by using safe and proper practices.

It was discovered that PG&E hadn’t been notified about work on the vacant building. State law requires a call to 811 at least two days before digging to allow the utility to mark underground lines.

The day of the fire PG&E emergency responders were called in to turn off the gas. However, the wait for crews to safely disable the gas line became a lengthy delay in fighting the flames.

PG&E spokesman Joe Molica had said in the days following the fire that the San Bruno Avenue fire presented a “unique situation.”

In a normal situation crews can shutoff a building’s gas valve but in this case the valve was too close to the fire. Instead, crews decided to excavate the road to reach the pipes connected to the two buildings, which took two hours to pinch off the gas flow.

According to fire officials, Stavropoulos said at the meeting that PG&E is improving its dispatch, response and mapping process to enhance coordination with the Fire Department.

He called the meeting “positive and productive” and said “our cooperation is absolutely essential to quick, effective emergency response.”

Hayes-White noted that PG&E was “responsive and transparent” and willing to conduct “interagency drills focused on gas-related emergencies.”

The fire chief laid out plans to meet with the utility on a quarterly basis, which will keep the department updated on their emergency response capabilities and resources.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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