Retired fire official: Lack of SF response to Valley Fire partially due to institutional problem

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White’s controversial decision to send only one engine to the deadly Valley Fire last month was not her fault alone — but an institutional problem, according to a retired fire official who co-chaired the department’s Mutual Aid Committee.

Fire commissioners and top brass blasted the chief late last month, saying the department turned its back on a mutual aid request instead of helping to fight a blaze that destroyed almost 2,000 structures, killed four people and burned for more than three weeks.

But retired Battalion Chief Ted Corporandy, who co-authored the Fire Department’s Wildland Urban Interface Response manual, pointed to “a glaring weakness and colossal ignorance within the top administrative structure of the [San Francisco Fire Department] throughout its history” in an email sent to the Fire Commission Sept. 23.

“Many members of the SFFD feel they are the center of [the] universe,” Corporandy wrote, referring to the “Fire Service universe” that the SFFD is just one part of.

“Until that attitude is removed from the collective minds of the SFFD, this is just one aspect of the multitude of problems that face the department.”

Corporandy said responding to mutual aid would have depleted The City’s fire resources, which is why Hayes-White decided not to send more units.

Still, Corporandy said the depletion would not have been “to a degree that the SFFD could not absorb and manage.”

He said when he co-chaired the Mutual Aid Committee it was difficult for his superiors to understand the Fire Department’s role on a statewide level when major wildfires were burning.

“The stories of ignorance and misunderstanding are numerous,” he said.

The email was made public at the Fire Commission meeting Thursday, where Hayes-White’s decision was offered support by a fire commissioner and a deputy chief. Deputy Chief Mark Gonzales said that the burden of the decision fell upon Hayes-White, but it was not made alone.

“It was a very difficult decision but it was the correct decision,” Gonzales said. “I know the right decision was made.”

Commissioner Michael Hardeman also offered some support for Hayes-White, saying she was “hammered” for her decision.

“I thought it was very unfair to criticize the chief,” Hardeman said.“At a couple of the prior meetings, I for one brought up the condition of our engines.”

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