NIOSH Cites Issues in San Francisco Firefighter Deaths

A NIOSH fatality report released on Thursday in the deaths of two San Francisco firefighters last summer found that tactical and communications issues were contributing factors.

Read NIOSH Report

Lt. Vincent Perez and Firefighter/Paramedic Anthony Valerio were killed on June 2, 2011 when they became trapped by intense heat while battling a blaze at a multi-level residential structure in the Diamond Heights neighborhood.

Both firefighters arrived on Engine 26 around 10:48 a.m. and noticed light smoke showing as they made their way through the front door of the structure.

Just minutes later, the incident commander attempted to contact them over the radio, but was unsuccessful.

A battalion chief followed the hoseline through the door and spoke to the Perez, who told him the fire appeared to be on the floor below them. As he exited the door, both firefighters didn't follow him.

A few minutes after that, the incident commander attempted a second time to contact them and was again unsuccessful.

Firefighters from Engine 24 and Rescue 1 tried to gain entry through a door in the garage, but were met by intense heat.

Crews were able to make it down to the basement, which by that point was fully involved and the fire was quickly knocked down.

The crew from Engine 24 backed out of the garage and followed the hoseline Perez and Valerio were on through the front door. In zero visibility conditions, they found both men and removed them from the structure where they received immediate medical treatment.

They were transported to a local hospital where Perez was pronounced dead and Valerio died two days later.

The NIOSH report listed the architecture of the structure, which was built into a steep sloping hillside; ineffective size-up; ineffective fire command communications and the lack of a personnel accountability system on its list of contributing factors.

Key recommendations by the agency include implanting SOGs for hillside structures, ensuring an adequate size-up is conducted, maintaining staffing levels, establishing and utilizing a personal accountability system and training all firefighters in Mayday procedures.

The agency also recommended that more research be done to improve radio system capabilities -- which failed for the firefighters due to the intense heat.