Peskin calls for SF fire chief to resign over North Beach fire response

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said fire crews did not shoot water onto a massive fire in North Beach for more than half an hour on Saturday night, prompting him to call for the resignation of Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

“I’ve been in and out of this job for 20 years,” said Peskin, who represents North Beach on the Board of Supervisors. “I’ve never seen anything like this. They just blew it tonight.”

But Jonathan Baxter, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Fire Department, disputed Peskin’s timeline. “That is grossly incorrect,” Baxter said in a text message.

The four-alarm fire ripped through a building at 659 Union St. near Columbus Avenue during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the neighborhood, shooting flames dozens of feet above the roof.

Peskin said fire crews arrived at the blaze within six minutes, but firefighters “did not start using trucks and engines and fire hydrants to start shooting water into the upper floors until 8:07 p.m.” — some 37 minutes later.

“If accountability starts at the top, it is time for Joanne Hayes-White to resign or for the mayor to ask her to go,” Peskin said.

Baxter said firefighters arrived to the scene two minutes after they were dispatched, attacking the blaze from inside the building within six minutes. The fire was at two alarms just after 7:30 p.m., but quickly grew to a four-alarm blaze.

“What people might have mistaken is that they didn’t see water like this because at that point we were offensively fighting the fire, ie., from inside the structure,” Hayes-White told NBC Bay Area.

SF Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White/Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner file photo 2015

Mayor Mark Farrell called Peskin’s comments “inappropriate” and said he has full confidence in the fire chief.

“While there is a live four-alarm fire burning it is inappropriate for anybody to criticize how the professional firefighters of the SFFD, with decades of experience, are handling the situation,” Farrell said in a statement.

The fire displaced eight people and resulted in an injury for one firefighter who fell from a truck ladder on Sunday morning, according to Baxter. The firefighter is in stable condition.

“The valiant efforts of the San Francisco Fire Department speaks for itself,” Farrell said. “No lives were lost and no civilian injuries occurred.”

The fire appears to have impacted a number of businesses on the ground floor of the building including Coit Liquors and Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe. Baxter said city services were at the scene Sunday morning to assist the businesses.

Peskin said 27 residential units in the building have been vacant since another fire there in 2014. Peskin also said residents of the 28-unit adjacent building at 575 Columbus St. may be displaced.

The Red Cross has opened a temporary shelter for residents at the Salvation Army at 1450 Powell St.

Peskin plans to call a hearing at the Board of Supervisors to investigate the department’s response to the fire.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Michael Barba and Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Michael Barba covers criminal justice for the San Francisco Examiner. Contact him at (415)359-2874 or mbarba@sfexaminer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mdbarba.

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