Hundreds of firefighters in dress blues shivered in the cold wind Thursday evening outside St. Mary’s Cathedral to pay respects to two of their own who had fallen in the line of duty.
The flag-draped caskets holding the bodies of Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter and paramedic Anthony Valerio were saluted by more than 100 area firefighters who were led into the church by SFFD Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Firefighters from as far away as Boston and parts of Canada are in San Francisco to honor Perez and Valerio. Both men died while battling a blaze in the Diamond Heights neighborhood on June 2. They were members of Engine Company 26.
The vigil is the first of two events for firefighters and community members to show their appreciation. A funeral service and burial is scheduled to begin today at 12:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
San Francisco Fire Lt. Ken Smith said it is an emotional day for San Francisco.
“You never think, or hope, to bury one of your own,” he said. “This is a brotherhood. Members from throughout California and the nation will be here.”
Smith said an investigation into the blaze and what led to the deaths is ongoing.
“We will continue to try and find out what happened,” he said. “And we will make sure we continue to do what we can to serve the people of San Francisco.”
While waving at firefighters as they slowly entered the cathedral Thursday, Sally Casazza, chairwoman of the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program, said although it is a surprise and shock to lose two firefighters, the deaths are part of the service they chose and loved to do.
Casazza said she knew Valerio personally.
“He was very selfless,” she said of Valerio. “I last saw him around Christmas; he offered to do a last [toy] pickup that no one else wanted to do. That was the kind of person he was.”
In order to allow as many San Francisco firefighters to attend Friday’s funeral and burial procession as possible, the toy program is helping coordinate with hundreds of Bay Area firefighters to man The City’s firehouses, Casazza said.
Following the funeral, nearly 100 fire trucks will participate in the nine-mile procession from the Cathedral on Gough Street to Colma, where the two will be buried, according to fire officials.
Lt. Mindy Talmadge said up to 83 trucks from throughout the state will participate in the procession. Five San Francisco trucks will be in the procession and dozens of others will be stationed along the route.
The fallen fighters
Lt. Vincent A. Perez
Service: Lieutenant at Engine Company 26. Former Alameda County jailer. Planned to retire soon.
Home: Born and raised in Mission. Attended Riordan High School.
Personal: The unmarried firefighter was his mother’s primary caretaker. Two brothers are police officers.
Anthony M. Valerio
Service: Firefighter-paramedic at Engine Company 26.
Home: Attended El Camino High School in South San Francisco.
Personal: An avid surfer and kayaker. His ex-wife also works as a San Francisco firefighter.
If you want to donate
Donations to defray the cost of the services can be made out and mailed to:
San Francisco Firefighters Local 798
1139 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
A trust account to benefit the families of the two fallen firefighters has been established through SF Fire Credit Union. Please make checks out to Anthony Valerio or Vincent Perez. Donations can be directed to:
SF Fire Credit Union
3201 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
In San Francisco, streets will be closed or have heavy traffic today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Geary Boulevard: Westbound, from Gough to Webster streets and eastbound, from Divisadero to Gough streets
- Webster Street: Northbound lanes, from Ellis to Geary
- Gough Street: Partial lane closures, from Geary to Ellis
- The procession will leave the church at 1111 Gough St. and head south on Gough, turn west on Market Street, then south on Valencia Street, turn west on 15th Street, turn south on Dolores Street and merge onto San Jose Avenue.
- The procession will proceed onto Interstate 280, which will be closed from 4 to 6 p.m. It will exit the freeway around Serramonte Boulevard.
In Colma, streets will be closed from 3 to 7 p.m.
- El Camino Real at Hickey Boulevard
- El Camino Real at Mission Road
- Hickey Boulevard at Juniper Serra Boulevard
- Junipero Serra Boulevard at Serramonte Boulevard
- El Camino Real at Serramonte Boulevard
- Mission Road at Lawndale
Source: SFPD and Colma PD
Details of ceremony
Highlights planned for today’s funeral:
- Irish bagpipers will welcome guests to the service at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
- A traditional funeral mass with gospel readings and prayers will begin at 12:30 p.m.
- A city remembrance will be held by Mayor Ed Lee
- Firefighter speakers include Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Capt. William Storti from Engine Company 26
- Family and friends will share memories
- Badge and helmet presentation
- Bell tribute
- Final farewell
- Procession to Colma, where Perez and Valerio will be laid to rest
Source: San Francisco Fire Department