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SF mourns death of firefighter as vigil kept for critically injured colleague

The firefighter who was injured in a deadly Diamond Heights house fire Thursday morning remains in critical condition at San Francisco General Hospital Friday, hospital officials said, as the city continues to mourn the loss of another fireman killed in the blaze.

Firefighter Anthony Valerio, 53, suffered critical injuries after he was severely burned while attempting to fight the fire inside a home overlooking Glen Canyon Park at 131 Berkeley Way.

Firefighter & Paramedic Anthony Valerio. Courtesy San Francisco Fire Dept.

The raging fire claimed the life of his colleague, Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, who succumbed to his injuries after he was brought to SF General’s emergency room. Fire officials said Perez died after going into cardiac arrest.

A third firefighter suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from the hospital. Her name has not been released.

Friends, family and colleagues of Valerio kept a bedside vigil at the hospital’s emergency room overnight, hoping for good news from hospital doctors about his recovery, fire officials said.

Lieutenant Vincent Perez. Courtesy San Francisco Fire Dept.

On Thursday, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Valerio was “fighting for his life” at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Valerio suffered major burns and injuries to his respiratory system from a flash of fire that overtook the three firefighters inside the home.

City-wide mourning

Flags throughout San Francisco flew at half-staff Friday morning in honor of Perez and the city’s grieving Fire Department. At Fire Station 26, where Perez and Valerio were based, several residents showed up at the firehouse to offer condolences for fellow members of Engine Company 26 who were shaken by Perez’s death.

He became the first San Francisco firefighter to die in the line of duty since 2003, when an airport firefighter, Melinda Ohler, fell off a moving fire engine that was responding to a building alarm activation at San Francisco International Airport.

To show solidarity with the SFFD, several other Bay Area fire departments, including San Jose Fire and Alameda County Fire, ordered that their flags be lowered to half-staff in mourning.

The death also touched other city departments, which sent messages of condolence to Perez and the fire department.

“Although firefighters and police officers serve in different capacities in keeping our City safe we are one family,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said. “Losing a member of the public safety family in the line of duty is something we know can happen at any time yet we are never prepared for it when it happens. When it does, as it did today, we felt a pain in our hearts we cannot describe.”

A life of public service

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Hayes-White said Perez “dedicated his entire adult life to public service.”

A native San Franciscan who graduated from Archbishop Riordan High School and City College of San Francisco, Perez joined the United States Marine Corps, then served as a Sheriff’s Deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

He switched careers and joined the San Francisco Fire Department in 1982 for his “dream job,” according to Hayes-White, who graduated from the city’s fire academy alongside Perez.

His two brothers serve as police officers in Oakland and San Francisco, Hayes-White said. Memorial services for Perez are still pending.

Comments left on a Beat condolence from people who said they knew Perez described him as a hard-working fireman who sought to help others.

“He was a wonderful young man, and as a SF firefighter, was dedicated to the community in which he served,” said Noe, a neighbor who lived in Perez’s Concord apartment complex. “I will miss seeing him here when our paths crossed.”

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