SF fire chief blasted for response to Valley Fire

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

When the San Francisco Fire Department was called upon to respond to the raging Valley Fire earlier this month, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White decided the department couldn’t spare more than a single engine to the effort to fight the blaze.

That decision was blasted on Thursday by fire commissioners and top brass who said the department turned its back on the mutual aid request — instead of potentially cutting the losses of a fire that killed four, engulfed almost 2,000 structures and is still burning 12 days later.

Before the truck was dispatched to the Valley Fire, earlier in the week Hayes-White dispatched six engines to the Butte Fire.

That left Hayes-White with a tough decision — send more engines and leave a seismically vulnerable city in high demand of fire services shorthanded, or keep all of The City’s firehouses open.

“I was not willing to take that chance, to take that risk,” Hayes-White told commissioners.

Instead, she stood by minimum staffing requirements, as mandated by a city ordinance, meaning all fire stations must be fully equipped. Lake County — where the Valley Fire burns — is outside of the mandated mutual aid region, she said.

But Capt. John Darmanin, a 32-year veteran assigned to the Arson Task Force, disagreed with the chief’s position that “the department’s hands were tied.”

With the consent of the Fire Commission and Board of Supervisors, a firehouse can be closed to respond to emergency blazes.

“All we had to do was convene an emergency session,” said Darmanin. “Our hands were not tied, all we had to do was ask.”

Hayes-White said her response was not a personnel issue, but an equipment one. The department has been suffering from an aging fleet of fire trucks. Commissioner Andrea Evans said out of 28 engines, 18 are past their useful life.

“I think if we had a strike team [at the Valley Fire] we would have been able to help some people,” Evans said. Instead, when she visited the wreckage recently she was greeted by a “tent city.”butte firecalifornia wildfireControversyfirefightersJoanne Hayes-WhitePoliticsSan Francisco Fire DepartmentSan Francisco fire responseSF Fire ChiefSf fire equipmentsf fire trucksValley Firewildfire

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