San Francisco pays up for failed rescue

The family of a 26-year-old man who died two years ago after an off-duty firefighter tried to rescue him from the edge of a roof will receive a financial settlement from The City, after claiming the firefighter was at fault.

On Oct. 12, 2006, Nick Torrico, of Seattle, climbed the fire escape to the roof’s edge of an apartment building on Powell Street and appeared poised to jump. As police negotiators at street level tried to talk to him away from the edge, San Francisco fire Lt. Victor Wyrsch surprisingly went onto the roof to intervene, authorities said. Wyrsch attempted to grab Torrico in a bear hug, but Torrico wrestled himself from the fireman’s arms and fell, the firefighter told The Examiner in 2006.

Torrico’s family sued The City in July 2007, alleging that Nicholas would still be alive if Wyrsch hadn’t attempted the rescue. The San Francisco Fire Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a tentative settlement reached by both sides in April and send it to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Wyrsch told The Examiner after the incident that although police were trying to talk Torrico off the roof, he had to take action.

“He took my hands and was ripping them off,” he said. “This guy was fighting to get over the ledge.”

The San Francisco Fire Department chose not to take disciplinary action against Wyrsch, and he remains a member of the firefighting force, said Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

The family and its attorneys have been frustrated by the city agencies’ delay in approving the terms of the settlement, attorney Michael Meadows said. However, he said the settlement was the more humane choice, especially for the Torricos.

“I didn’t want to have to put the family, most of whom live in Seattle, through a trial,” Meadows said. “And within the City Attorney’s Office, the lawyers had compassion — this was settlement by consensus, when usually it’s cold-blooded calculation.”

“It’ll be nice to say it’s all over and put it behind us,” said Cynthia Torrico, Nicholas’ sister, on Monday. “But, in my opinion, it will never be over — I feel like I was in a bad dream and I haven’t woken up from it.”

Meadows would not disclose the dollar amount of the settlement until the Board of Supervisors approves all legal documents, which he expected would happen in October. Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office, would not comment on the terms until that date.

“My family feels very much the victimized party in this, and we’ll always say, ‘What if?’” Cynthia Torrico said. “But we need closure at this point.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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