Fire chief not stepping down per Peskin's calls, blaze appears accidental

The fire in North Beach may be out, but the political firestorm surrounding it is still burning. Supervisor Aaron Peskin  called for San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to resign over what he called a poor response to a building fire in North Beach Saturday night.

"No intention of resigning. No,"  Hayes-White said on Monday. Hayes-White called Peskin's loud behavior over the fire, disruptive.

"One of the things I intend to do is respectfully request that in the future, he refrain from being around the command post or on the fire ground itself when we are actively responding to an emergency," said Hayes-White.

The war of words erupted Saturday night, when a three-story residential and commercial building burst into flames at Union Street and Columbus Avenue in North Beach.

Peskin, who represents the neighborhood, openly criticized  Hayes-White while at the fire scene.

He said firefighters had been slow to spray water on the fire. He reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner, "If accountability starts at the top, it is time for Joanne Hayes-White to resign or for the mayor to ask her to go,"

Mayor Mark Farrell says he will not be asking her to leave.

"To comment that a chief should resign in th middle of a fire is one of  the most inappropriate things you can do. So absolutely not. I commend the firefighters for the job they did," said Farrell.

The chief says the early strategy was to fight the fire from the inside and make sure no one was trapped inside.

Then safety dictated that firefighters come out and spray water on the exterior. One firefighter was injured,  but has been released from the hospital.

"I think the confusion was no one saw water on the fire because the brave men and women were inside taking a beating," says Hayes-White.

The San Francisco Firefighters Union has had its disagreements with the chief in the past, but came to her defense over the Saturday night fire.

"Firefighting has never been one of our quarrels. In this situation we are with Joanne Hayes- White," said union president Tom O'Connor.

On Monday the chief said a preliminary investigation points to an accidental cause. It appears the fire may have started in the chimney flue of a Thai restaurant in the building before spreading. The fire is still under investigation. 

We reached out to Peskin, but his staff says he is on vacation in Mexico. Peskin's voicemail says he will be back in April and that he will not be checking  messages.