S.F. Supervisor Peskin Apologizes to Fire Chief Following North Beach Blaze

Firefighters battle a four-alarm building fire in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (San Francisco Fire Department/via Twitter)

Updated 12:45 p.m. Tuesday

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin has issued an apology to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White after criticizing the way the Fire Department battled a four-alarm blaze Saturday night in North Beach.

The fire at 659 Union St. damaged several businesses and displaced eight residents.

Peskin criticized Hayes-White at the scene of the blaze for the department's decision to wait before dumping water on the outside of the building.

"While I reserve the right to raise questions as more information comes out about SFFD leadership response to Saturday night's fire, it was inappropriate to raise them on the scene," Peskin wrote in a statement Tuesday morning. "I apologize to Chief Hayes-White."

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Hours later Mayor Mark Farrell applauded Peskin for apologizing.

"In the middle of a live fire to be criticizing the professional firefighters, literally as flames are dancing behind you, on how they're fighting the fire, unless you're a firefighter yourself, I think there's really no standing at all to be doing that," Farrell said.

"I think it was wholly inappropriate, and I think he's doing the right thing," Farrell said.

Fire officials have defended their firefighting tactics.

Firefighters say they arrived a minute after getting a call about the fire at 7:24 p.m. Saturday. Members of an engine crew forced their way through a locked door to get into the building as other firefighters and police officers evacuated businesses inside, fire officials said.

Minutes later, firefighters brought hoses into the building and searched for occupants. After finding no one inside, fire commanders decided to battle the blaze from the outside.

"Based on the totality of circumstances the department was confronted with, such as heavy fire load, and no occupants, the incident commander made the decision to fight this fire defensively," SFFD spokesman Jonathan Baxter wrote in a statement released Monday.

The fire is under investigation, but investigators believe it was accidental, Baxter said.

Tom O'Connor, president of San Francisco's main firefighters union, Local 798, who has pushed for Hayes-White to be replaced before, said the chief made the right call on Saturday night.

"We've had quarrels in the past with our chief, but it's about broader policy issues," O'Connor said. "We've never had a quarrel about how to extinguish a fire and how we perform on the fire ground."