SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - The San Francisco Fire Department has warned numerous building owners and tenants their fire alarm systems need to be re-evaluated after a 2 Investigates report in May, which exposed an unlicensed fire alarm technician who signed off on a faulty system.
That technician, Tom Jue, admitted that he has been working without a license for years. He was the one who signed off on the fire alarm system at a Mission District apartment building that caught fire in 2015, but the alarm never went off, according to witnesses.
Back in 2015, the building in the 3200 block of 22nd Street erupted in flames killing one man and injuring several more people, including a firefighter. The cause of the fire is believed to be accidental, but tenants said the alarm failed to go off and possibly contributed to the death of 38-year-old Mauricio Orellana.
Despite admitting to working without a license in a 2016 court deposition, 2 Investigates has learned that Jue continued to work on San Francisco fire alarm systems as recently as March of this year.
Firefighters and building owners rely on the certification stickers issued by fire alarm technicians, which ensure the systems are operational and serviced appropriately.
After the story aired, 2 Investigates learned that there are more than a half dozen other properties around San Francisco with alarm systems serviced by Jue. KTVU received multiple calls concerned buildings owners and fellow fire alarm technicians who say they saw similar issues in other buildings.
“The story ran, and [my colleague] got flooded with calls by concerned property managers,” said Nick Vezmar, a certified San Francisco fire alarm technician who has found issues with Jue’s work at multiple San Francisco properties he has personally worked on.
“We had whole apartment buildings with no notification knowing whether their fire alarm system was working in the building,” he said. “If someone wanted to notify or activate the alarm, they couldn’t.”
2 Investigates also obtained internal emails from the San Francisco Fire Department where fire officials identified at least seven additional properties of concern with fire alarms serviced by Jue. A May 14 email from a fire captain instructs any crews who discover inspections or maintenance work associated with Jue to report it to higher-ups through the department’s chain of command.
2 Investigates visited multiple locations -- including four apartment buildings, an elementary school, a business building and a gymnastics club for children -- and found alarm certification stickers with Jue’s signature on them. Many of the tenants and employees said they had no idea there could be a problem with their fire alarm system.
“That’s really trippy,” said one property manager. “Kind of scary…yeah, no clue. Got to get that double checked.”
After multiple unreturned calls and requests for an interview, 2 Investigates found Jue in front of his home in the Miraloma neighborhood of San Francisco. He did not answer questions regarding why he continued to work without a license or if there are any other properties the public should be concerned about. Instead, he recorded the 2 Investigates team with his cell phone and said he didn’t “want to be harassed.”
The San Francisco Fire Department has not provided an update on their investigation into Jue. The Contractors State License Board told 2 Investigates they have an open investigation but could not disclose any details.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office also says it currently has a criminal investigation underway. There are no new updates.
Jue and the Mission District building owner, Hawk Lou, were sued by the family of the man who died in the 2015 Mission fire. Both men settled the wrongful death case, paying a total of more than a million dollars, the family’s attorney confirms.