Letter blasts SFFD for sending one engine to Valley Fire

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) – The San Francisco Fire Department on Wednesday defended its decision to only send one fire engine to the deadly Valley Fire in Lake County.

On Sept. 13, the state Office of Emergency Services issued an urgent request for mutual aid to help firefighters in tackle the enormous fire that has now claimed at least four lives.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White decided to send only one truck. Her spokeswoman, Mindy Talmadge, said the department had already sent six rigs to help fight the Butte Fire in Amador County and couldn’t risk exposing San Franciscans by being spread too thin.

Talmadge said Hayes-White thought long and hard before ultimately deciding that she could only spare one engine. But the chief offered to send additional personnel up north, Talmadge said.

In fact, the San Francisco crews at the Butte Fire were later set to be transferred to battle the Valley Fire, but were ultimately canceled, according to Talmadge.

The chief’s decision isn’t sitting well with some members of the rank-and-file, who are accusing the chief of failing to help out fellow firefighters up north. They say she is being indifferent to the needs of Lake County firefighters and residents who are returning to see their homes burned down to the ground.

In a letter to the San Francisco Fire Commission, retired San Mateo-Foster City fire battalion chief Jim Comisky is blasting Hayes-White, saying he wanted to express his “disappointment and disgust” with her decision. Comisky is a fire commissioner with a fire protection district in Lake County.

“In my 35 years of professional fire service, this decision by Chief Hayes-White not to send a strike team is one of the poorest I have ever witnessed by someone in a command position,” Comisky wrote. “This certainly warrants an investigation.”

The San Francisco Fire Commission is meeting Thursday, and many firefighters are expected to attend to criticize the chief.

Hayes-White, the first female urban fire chief, is no stranger to criticism within the ranks; the firefighters’ union last fall asked for her resignation and issued a vote of no-confidence. But she has remained on the job, even rejecting an offer to lead the fire department in London. 

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