SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Fire Department has been cited by state investigators for “serious” worker safety violations in the deaths of two firefighters who died while battling a house fire.
A report by the state Occupational Safety and Health said firefighters outside the house lost track of Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio. The two were fatally injured after being caught in a flash fire triggered by superhot gases during a June 2 blaze in the Diamond Heights neighborhood.
The state issued four citations against the department, three of them categorized as “serious.” They included a battalion chief entering the house by himself without maintaining visual or voice contact and not ensuring that at least two firefighters were outside ready to perform rescue procedures.
“These are serious in that they had protocols in place, but they weren’t following them,” said Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the worker safety agency, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday. “There’s no question that a lack of communications was a big issue here. The investigator found there was a breakdown there.”
The state issued a $21,000 fine.
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told the newspaper that 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 told the newspaper that the exact circumstances of the firefighters’ deaths could not be determined.
Valerio, Perez and a third member of their crew were the first firefighters to arrive at the midmorning 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 the home.
Safety regulations, however, require a fourth firefighter to be available outside to assist.
Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Jose Velo told KGO-TV on Friday that the fire crew had backup personnel and that the battalion chief talked to Perez and Valerio in the house. Velo said they had radio communications, which failed during the fire.
“We have documentation to prove that these citations are not based on what we think happened up there,” Velo said.
Tom O’Connor, president of the San Francisco Firefighter’s Union firefighter’s union, told the television station that they were more concerned about the internal fire department probe than with the state findings.
“They have the documentation of the radio transcripts, with the times that each radio transmission was made,” O’Connor said. “You have video footage from neighbors with time stamps on the bottom, so you can track the times of the radio transmissions with the growing fire.”
The department said its internal investigation could be released within a month.