SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A second firefighter who suffered serious burns battling a blaze in a San Francisco home died Saturday after a 40-hour struggle to save his life, the city’s fire chief said.
The death of 53-year-old firefighter/paramedic Anthony Valerio is the San Francisco Fire Department’s second fatality this week. Previously, no San Francisco firefighters had been killed in the line of duty in nearly a decade.
Chief Joanne Hayes-White said that during her 21-year career the department had not had two firefighters killed in the same blaze.
“It is particularly difficult. You’re mourning the loss of one and then to have another one very close from the same fire is challenging for us, is painful for us,” she said.
Valerio and fellow firefighter Lt. Vincent Perez were battling the blaze Thursday in the city’s Diamond Heights neighborhood when they were overcome by a “flashover” — a sudden surge of heat and flame in which everything in a room ignites at once.
They were rushed to San Francisco General Hospital in critical condition. Perez, who was 48, died Thursday after going into cardiac arrest.
Valerio’s heart had stopped by the time he had arrived at the hospital, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said. Valerio was suffering from smoke inhalation, burns and other injuries caused by the blast — including serious lung damage.
“This was a minute-to-minute struggle for his life,” Campbell said. In the end, he said, Valerio’s injuries were “just too overwhelming.”
The cause of the fire was still under investigation, and Hayes-White said the department would be reviewing its standard operating procedures in light of the deaths.
Perez and Valerio were the first to arrive on the scene Thursday morning and the first to attempt to battle the blaze. They were inside the single-family dwelling when the sudden burst of flame erupted.
The flashover blast left both firefighters unconscious. A third firefighter also inside suffered minor injuries but was able to exit the home on his own.
Hayes-White announced Valerio’s death Saturday morning outside the hospital’s emergency department. She was joined by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials, as well as Valerio’s parents and six siblings.
Valerio began working for the city 27 years ago as a paramedic, Hayes-White said. He joined the fire department in 1997.
Family members recalled Valerio — the oldest of his family’s seven children and a native of San Francisco — as an easygoing friend to everyone with a good sense of humor who loved to travel.
His brother Mark Valerio described a time when the two were on a beach in Santa Cruz on a day off when a person in the water was attacked by a shark. Valerio said his brother was the first to rush to the victim’s aid.
“He knew that he liked helping people,” Valerio said. “He was very selfless.”
Dozens of firefighters stood at attention and saluted as Anthony Valerio’s body was brought out of the hospital on a gurney draped in an American flag.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)