SF assistant fire chief critical of city's lack of aid in Valley Fire

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- San Francisco Assistant Fire Chief Tom Siragusa on Thursday said he felt helpless as he heard the desperate cries for assistance from Lake County firefighters on the day the Valley Fire broke out.

As homes burned and the fire cut a wide path of destruction that would eventually claim four lives, Siragusa said he asked a deputy chief at 4 p.m. Sept 12 for permission to send a group of firefighters north.

The deputy chief told him to wait and that he'd have an answer for him at 5:30 p.m. Siragusa said he was in shock.

"I sat in stunned silence," Siragusa said. "To me, that's the equivalent of me calling 911, telling them what we need, and I was put on hold for an hour and a half."

Eventually, Siragusa was told that San Francisco wouldn't be sending any engines. The next day, the city sent a single truck to help fight the blaze.

Now, 34-year department veteran Siragusa is speaking out, saying Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White failed to help fellow firefighters by refusing to send more engines to assist in one of the worst blazes in California history.

This, as other agencies around the Bay Area immediately sent firefighters to help, he says.

"Counties around us dug deep," he said. 

He noted that departments across the Bay Area "stepped up" and didn't hesitate to staff San Francisco fire stations to allow city firefighters to mourn and attend the funerals of two firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2011.

"Our neighbors are asking for help," he said. "Would we say no to the Oakland hills fire today? Shame on us for not providing assistance."

Siragusa plans to address the San Francisco Fire Commission on Thursday to express his disappointment. He says he issue has nothing to do with politics and that the safety of San Franciscans would not have been an issue had the chief sent more engines to the Valley Fire.

"We have a professional and moral obligation to send resources," Siragusa says.

Siragusa has a connection to the region. In the 1976, Siragusa began his career as a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Middletown.

Fire department officials have said their priority was to ensure that all fire stations were adequately staffed to protect the city and that five engines had already been sent a day earlier to help fight the Butte Fire in Amador County. 

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