Unsung Heroes
By Jim Vannucchi, Director
“This was a big fire, a major fire. We’re very fortunate more people weren’t hurt.” “We credit the citizens for evacuating the building, going through the hallways and helping get their neighbors out.”

These were the statements issued by the SFFD Public Information Officers (PIO) following the 4th alarm that occurred at the Raymond Hotel, 1011 Howard St., on April 15, 2001, Easter Sunday morning. Yes, the fire was big. Yes, we are fortunate that more people were not hurt. And yes, the residents of the Raymond Hotel should be commended for their efforts in evacuating the building. But the PIO’s forgot one little thing; with incredible bravery, the members of the first arriving companies (T-8, E-8, T-1, E-1, E-36, RS-1) rescued 8 victims from the soon-to-be inferno.

The following excerpt highlights the actions of but one of these companies (T-8, led by Lt. Dan Armenta,) that undeniably compels one to recognize and admire the most resolute of dedication given by each and every member of the SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT to preserve human life: “Upon arrival on the scene, T-8 positioned on Harriet St. to initially deploy the aerial to the roof of the fire building. Upon raising the aerial, FF Smith was directed by Lt Armenta to re-position the aerial at a third story window that was fully charged with smoke to effect the rescue of a trapped victim. Upon placement of the aerial, FF Smith immediately ascended the ladder to assist the victim to safety. At this point the aerial was re-directed by Lt. Armenta to the roof of the fire building to allow FF Cunnie to scale the aerial to cause the deliverance of 2 victims who were trapped on the roof by the heat and smoke. At this point, with the assistance of FF Smith, FF Cunnie flanked the ridge ladder to produce the rescue of 2 additional victims who were imprisoned on a lower roof of the fire building. As the campaign waged on, FF Favero and FF Camarillo threw the 24’ ladder to liberate yet another victim who was ensnared at a second story window due to the ever advancing flames. FF Favero and FF Camarillo continued with their life-saving efforts by assisting 2 firefighters from E-36 throw the 35’ extension ladder to rescue a victim who was stranded on the 3rd story of the fire building.”

Commonplace? Hardly. The above actions merely underscore the unwavering dedication fire suppression members have to their chosen profession. With total disregard for their own personal safety, the firefighters who responded to the 4th alarm at the Raymond Hotel entered the breech and selflessly gave, prepared to sacrifice their own lives, so that others may live. Their uncommon valor went far beyond what the PIO had to offer.

Perhaps the position of PIO should be examined. It confounds me as to why an agency whose primary responsibility as dictated by law is fire suppression, has a career paramedic who has never fought a fire as its’ spokesperson. To speak of fire and of the firefighters, one must first taste the absolute panic and desperation of being trapped in a burning structure, only to be rescued by your comrades. This is something that is earned, not given. Something I don’t believe our PIO possesses. And the argument that the position for PIO was filled with a paramedic captain because no one else applied doesn’t fly. If this position were offered to H-20’s at the compensation rate a paramedic captain receives, you would have to use the Cow Palace to hold interviews.


After months of mis-direction, mis-management, budget overruns, loss of newly recruited H-3 laterals, much to the chagrin of the Presidio high command, Commissioner Pat Norman has directed a “roundtable” discussion be held to identify and hopefully cure the many woes of the EMS program. Representatives from Local 798 will be in attendance to insure that all issues are brought out in the open.

Speaking of EMS issues, fire suppression takes a hit every watch when a H-2 is detailed to the Presidio at 0800 hours to engage in H-3 training until 1800 hours. An engine company, normally staffed at 1-3, operates at the unsafe level of 1-2 until the H-3 candidate returns. More often than not, the 1-2 engine has a “probie” in the mix, further compromising the safety of the company. These positions are not backfilled because the administration cites an insufficient budget. But I believe that this is the same budget that has provided a brand new Ford Explorer with all of the toys to a Dr. Marshall Isaacs of EMS fame. His actual job description is a bit vague to me, but it seems inappropriate to provide him with a $40,000.00 vehicle and the fuel to run it when fire suppression is understaffed due to budgetary constraints. I’ve been told that I’m no rocket scientist, but wouldn’t that $40,000.00 fund 80 H-2 WDO’s from 0800-2000 to backfill the vacancies his EMS program has created.


I have received several telephone calls from members who have taken umbrage to an article that appeared in the April 2001 MAINLINE OPEN FORUM. The product in question was written by a Union member. Rather than politely stating their opinions, the callers chose to take a distasteful posture and castigate me for the content of the article. They felt that allowing the article to be printed was irresponsible of the Executive Board of Local 798. I informed the individuals that the articles appearing in Letters to the Editor and the Open Forum are not the views of the Executive Board or Local 798, but solely of the author. Further, I stated that I could not and would not honor their request, which was to delete this specific authors’ submissions. To do so would be the first step toward the suppression of freedom of speech of our membership. I shared with the callers that although the members of Local 798 have a common goal, we are not homogenized in our thought process. We are a diverse Union and receptive to input from all.

I then suggested to the callers a couple of options: submit a rebuttal article which I would be more than happy to include in the next edition, or, in the alternative, contact the author of the article to which they took exception, and voice their displeasure. The callers declined to accept either of the choices I provided to abate the issue, and chose instead to continue their verbal assaults on me, with one party threatening an EEO complaint.

To clarify any misunderstandings regarding submitting letters or articles to the MAINLINE, I will outline the official position of the SAN FRANCISCO FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 798. We will give all articles submitted by the membership an equal chance of getting printed. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily those of LOCAL 798 or the SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT. Further, the Editorial Board reserves the right to review/edit any submitted material.


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