A fire station in San Francisco’s Diamond Heights neighborhood was packed Saturday morning for a ceremony honoring two firefighters who died in the line of duty one year ago.
San Francisco fire Lt. Vincent Perez, 48, and Firefighter-Paramedic Anthony Valerio, 53, were killed in a house fire at 133 Berkeley Way on June 2, 2011 after a broken window fanned oxygen onto the flames, causing a major flareup known as a flashover.
Perez died the day of the fire, while Valerio passed away two days later.
Both men worked at fire station 26 at 80 Digby St., where today’s ceremony took place. Fire officials unveiled a memorial garden at the back of the station and plaques on a memorial wall at the station’s entrance.
Firefighters in uniform and others in civilian clothing with their families in tow were joined by officials including fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White and Supervisor Scott Wiener and many retired fire personnel members.
The families of Valerio and Perez attended the ceremony, which began with a moment of silence at 10:58 a.m. at the front of the station.
A firefighter salute and chiming bells marked the solemn moment that left family members teary-eyed.
Father John Green, the department’s chaplain, spoke to attendees standing in the blustering wind whipping through the quiet Diamond Heights neighborhood, just blocks from where the fatal fire occurred.
“As we stand here one year later…we still are grieving,” Green said, noting Valerio and Perez gave the “supreme sacrifice.”
The ceremony also honored firefighter Lt. Louis Mambretti, who was killed on the job 17 years ago while working from the same station.
“We remember them for doing their job and doing it well,” the chaplain said.
Fire Lt. Anita Paratley then led people back through the station to admire the newly erected memorial wall with plaques, photos and badges of Valerio and Perez displayed at the entry way.
The garden, which features a stone fountain, two benches, lavender and other flowers and three cherry trees planted for each of the fallen firefighters, was then unveiled with a dedication plaque with today’s date and Valerio, Perez, and Mambretti’s names.
Valerio’s father, Frank Valerio, 82, said the garden will provide his family another place to visit Tony aside from his grave.
He added that Tony Valerio, the oldest of eight siblings, had always wanted to be a firefighter.
Paratley said the garden had just been a space filled with weeds, but now with sweeping views of the city the area will be a place of reflection.
“The view is worth $1 million,” Paratley told the crowded balcony audience, “but the garden is priceless.”
The business community at the nearby Diamond Heights Shopping Center donated funding and resources to build the hillside garden.
Last year when news of the firefighters’ deaths hit the streets the nearby Glen Park Neighborhood Association stepped up to support the bereaved community.
Association president Michael Rice, who attended today’s ceremony along with other neighbors, said in the weeks following the deaths the group raised $2,000 to give to the firefighters’ families.
“We’re a big city, but losing two firefighters is a big moment,” said Rice, who lives down the hill from the station on Sussex Street.
Last June thousands of public safety officials from as far away as Mexico and Canada attended a funeral service for Valerio and Perez at San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Following today’s ceremony, firefighters warmed up a massive grill for a barbecue at the Walter Haas Playground next door to celebrate their fallen brothers’ lives.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News
Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.