More details emerged Monday about last week’s fatal Diamond Heights blaze, as fire officials said an emergency alert accidentally went off on a nearby fire engine about the same time two firefighters’ personal alarms sounded inside the burning building.
Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53, of Engine Company 26 both died from injuries they suffered while battling a blaze at a four-story home at 133 Berkeley Way on Thursday morning.
While fighting the fire, one or both of Valerio and Perez’s personal alert safety system devices went off. A PASS device sounds an alarm whenever a firefighter has been immobile for a certain period of time.
Around the same time, a firefighter on Engine Company 20 — which had yet to arrive on the scene — had inadvertently hit the emergency button on the engine.
The significance of the inadvertent emergency alert was unclear, although firefighter union President Tom O’Connor said he doubted it added to any confusion.
“It happens a lot,” said O’Connor, who is not involved in the investigation of the fire. “Sometimes you bump into it while getting your gear on.”
Firefighters have two ways to activate an emergency alarm on a radio, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge. One is on a radio located on the fire engine. The other is on the radio firefighters carry as part of their gear. In addition, firefighters also carry the PASS device.
As part of Engine Company 26, Perez and Valerio were among the first on scene and were aware they would have to fight the fire from above, exactly like a 1995 blaze in the same neighborhood that turned fatal.
A recording of the radio dispatch, posted to YouTube the day of the fire, points out how both firefighters went into the home to attack the blaze.
“Engine 26 is on scene, is reporting a working fire, below grade,” said the first incident commander.
Either Valerio or Perez responded, while coughing, that there was
“zero visibility” inside the home. The incident commander then repeatedly tried to ascertain the location of Valerio and Perez until going into the home himself.
As firefighters were desperately searching for Valerio and Perez, dispatchers also were trying to locate Engine 20.
About the time the incident commander went looking for Valerio and Perez, an emergency dispatcher said Engine 20 had activated a radio emergency button and hadn’t responded to calls for five minutes.
Officials said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.