NOVATO (KPIX 5) — As the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake approaches, KPIX 5 looks back on an act of heroism in the aftermath of the powerful quake.
A San Francisco firefighter says his life was forever changed when he crawled into the rubble of a collapsed building in the Marina District to save a trapped woman.
Retired San Francisco firefighter Gerry Shannon is a modest man living in a modest Novato home, but his Loma Prieta story is nothing less than miraculous.
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Shannon showed KPIX cameras photos in scrapbook as he remembered the day that changed his life.
30 years ago when Loma Prieta hit, Shannon and his team were dispatched to the Marina District and found themselves outside the collapsed building at Divisadero and Beach streets. His training and natural instincts took over.
“There was no way in, but there was a balcony collapse, so I was able to stick my head under and yell, ‘Is anybody in there?’ Nothing. ‘Is anybody in there?’ Nothing,” recalled Shannon. “And then I heard a faint voice: ‘I can hear you! I’m in here!'”
A woman was trapped under tons of debris, pinned with a crushed pelvis. On his back with only two feet of clearance, Gerry crawled deep into building to the woman as flames closed in. Shannon reached her, but needed a chainsaw to get her out.
“She grabbed my hand and I said, ‘I gotta go get a saw and I’ll be back.’ And I don’t think she believed me,” remembered Shannon. “So I said, ‘I promise I’ll be back!’ And she still didn’t let go and I said, ‘I gotta go get the saw! We’re wasting time! Time is ticking!'”
After cutting her free, another rescue squad member caught up with the pair.
“He’d been in there behind me. I didn’t even know it,” said Shannon. “He checked her out and said, ‘We gotta get her out of here!’ And I told her, this is gonna hurt and she goes, ‘Go for it!’ We slid her on the board and she never made a sound.”
The victim made it out alive as fire was consuming the collapsed building. She would live another 20 years. For Shannon, even after thirty years, the moment is still fresh and heavy with emotion. Shannon may have been the tip of the spear but he says it was his fellow firefighters who were the real heroes.