Lessons Learned In San Francisco

The San Francisco, CA, Fire Department's goals are to provide the highest quality of emergency services and to promote community participation in fire prevention and disaster preparedness. Protection is provided to those residing in the 49 square miles of...


The San Francisco, CA, Fire Department's goals are to provide the highest quality of emergency services and to promote community participation in fire prevention and disaster preparedness. Protection is provided to those residing in the 49 square miles of San Francisco and extended to an...


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The San Francisco, CA, Fire Department's goals are to provide the highest quality of emergency services and to promote community participation in fire prevention and disaster preparedness. Protection is provided to those residing in the 49 square miles of San Francisco and extended to an additional 750,000 visitors and workers during the business day. Resources consist of 42 engine companies, 19 truck companies, 22 ambulances, two heavy rescue squads, two fireboats and multiple specialty units. Fire suppression companies are organized in two divisions and are further divided into nine battalions. The Airport Division is comprised of three firefighting companies at San Francisco International Airport.

Each engine company is staffed with an officer and three firefighters, rescue squads are staffed with an officer and three firefighters, and truck companies are staffed with an officer and four firefighters. In 2008, the San Francisco Fire Department logged 249,803 responses to 109,388 incidents.

Our sincere thanks to SFFD Chief of Department Joanne Hayes-White, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Tom Siragusa and the men and women of the department, especially those who operated at this scene, for their cooperation in the development of this month's column.

It should be noted that Chief Hayes-White selected Assistant Deputy Chief Siragusa in the early-morning hours of Feb. 5, 2009, just following the Felton Street fire, to head a Safety Investigation Team tasked with compiling information and producing an investigative report. Unfortunately, chiefs must know ahead of time "who" in a fire department would be the most appropriate and qualified lead person in the event of a serious or tragic event. Even today, unfortunately, many chiefs fail to follow up with a comprehensive report to determine what went wrong — and what can be learned. These reports are always of value internally to the chiefs who have the courage to direct they be done. In many cases, chiefs share the findings with the fire service as a whole so that we all may learn. We applaud Chief Hayes-White for setting an example for other chiefs and officers in letting the information be shared. The most important thing any of us can do to honor any firefighters seriously injured or killed in the line of duty is to learn what happened, train on the issues and minimize the chance of history being repeated.

Assistant Deputy Chief Siragusa is a 27-year veteran of the SFFD and highly respected within the department and the fire service for his operational expertise, professionalism and vigilance regarding execution of a single action plan, safety, consistency and accountability on the fireground. As Chief Hayes-White wrote us: "Tom and his team did an excellent job in conducting a comprehensive investigation and completing a transparent, factual account of the events that occurred at the Felton Street fire."

The following account is provided by Assistant Deputy Chief Tom Siragusa of the San Francisco Fire Department:

On Feb. 5, 2009, at 12:26 A.M., the San Francisco Fire Department was dispatched to a report of a fire in the building at 627 Felton St. in the city's Portola neighborhood. This fire was determined to be an arson fire with accelerants used. First units arriving on the scene observed fire on the second floor in the left-rear corner of the two-story, wood-frame, detached building.

An aggressive interior fire attack was initiated through the front door, which is on the second floor. A truck company was assigned to perform vertical ventilation. A truck company assigned to the rear of the building discovered fire on the first-floor, left-rear area of the building and provided this information to the incident commander (IC), who promptly informed all units operating on the second floor that there was fire below them. The Fire Attack Group supervisor acknowledged this information and requested updates from the IC. The IC ordered companies to open the garage door and to lead hoselines into the garage to extinguish fire.

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