Last month, I stood a few hundred feet from the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Parker Avenue staring at a spot that had been engulfed in a 50-foot high fireball a couple of hours earlier. No one was injured, thanks to the hard work of our city’s first responders. However, this was still a startling reminder that we must do everything in our power to prevent this type of incident from happening in the first place.
For those impacted by this fire, the loss and devastation is overwhelming. I stood with two women who lived above Hong Kong Lounge II on a cold and rainy Saturday morning as they entered their home and tried to salvage everything they could. Although almost all their belongings were destroyed, one woman was able to retrieve her Dad’s old Cub Scout jacket that brought her relief and joy in the worst of circumstances. Helping the fire victims in the aftermath has given me many ideas on how to streamline the information victims need from city departments to address all the repercussions they face and to empower them with the knowledge they need.
In addition to the Geary Boulevard-Parker Avenue fire, we had another fire in the district in Presidio Heights before the holidays that also raised some issues.Many have voiced concerns about the safety of their homes should a fire occur in the Presidio, given the trees in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. The recent wildfires in California have definitely contributed to this angst, and it is important we are as prepared as possible to prevent such a tragedy.
INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE
One way to make sure we are prepared is to invest in infrastructure. In 2010 and 2014, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly supported Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response bonds, which provided capital funds to vital emergency preparedness projects. One of the most important projects is upgrading the city’s emergency firefighting water system, officially called the Auxiliary Water Supply System. This system provides high-pressure water and can even pull unlimited water from the bay. However, it was originally built in 1913. After a century of use fighting multiple-alarm fires, the current upgrades to water tanks, pipes, and tunnels, and facilities are essential. We need to continue improving and expanding our emergency firefighting water system as well, which is one of the issues I will focus on as supervisor.
The first ESER bond also helped us rebuild Fire Station No. 16 on Greenwich Street in Cow Hollow. I was thrilled to officially reopen this state-of-the-art facility a few weeks ago with Mayor London Breed and Chief Joanne Hayes-White. The new station is seismically safe and constructed with resilient life-safety systems that remain fully operational following an earthquake. This station houses a rotating crew of 33 first responders who protect and serve our community. It is critical that our fire stations are seismically safe with state-of-the-art equipment.
While investments like these might not always make headlines, properly investing in our infrastructure is critical to fire safety and protecting our community.
PLANNING PROPERLY FOR EMERGENCIES
Last month’s three-alarm fire on Geary Boulevard raised serious questions that must be answered to prevent this from happening again. I have called for a hearing to conduct a full review of the incident, including actions and events leading up to it and the response. Each department conducts an investigation, but for an event like the Geary Boulevard fire, we need an open conversation with all departments. What caused the construction crew to hit the gas line? Did the construction practices and crews meet state safety standards, and do we need to consider raising these standards? Could our first responders improve their response in any way? There are many more questions that need to be answered, and I look forward to this hearing in the next couple of months.
To address concerns raised by neighbors about potential fire dangers from the Presidio, I will be hosting a meeting on March 13 at 6 p.m. in the Presidio (location TBD) to review the latest report on risks and resources with the Presidio Trust and the San Francisco Fire Department. California has experienced disastrous wildfires over the last few years, and we want to ensure San Francisco is safe from similar incidents.
Last, in response to the tragic fire on Clay Street in December, I have been communicating with the neighbors and the SFFD about next steps. SFFD is working on a full report of what happened; once the report comes out, I will work with SFFD to learn what can better protect people in the future and will schedule a meeting with neighbors to help them understand the findings.
TAKE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS
Your actions are some of the most important when it comes to fire safety. Key precautions include having proper smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and an escape plan. SFFD has a list of safety tips you can find online at sf-fire.org.
It is extremely important to install smoke detectors on the ceiling of every sleeping room, outside of sleeping areas, and on every level of the home. Make sure to test all alarms once a month and replace them every 10 years. For those who are hard-of-hearing or deaf, there are special alarms that use strobe lights and bed shakers.
You can also learn the basics of personal preparedness and prevention with a free training from the Fire Department Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. At the training, you will gain hands-on disaster skills from professional firefighters to better respond to a personal emergency and act as a member of a neighborhood response team. The entire course is a 20-hour program over six classes, and the neighborhood training is free. I highly recommend this training, and it is a good idea to designate at least one person on your block as a NERT volunteer.
If you have any questions or concerns about fire safety, please contact my office at 415-554-7752 or [email protected].