Details Released of Rescue Attempt at Fatal Mission District Fire

A 40-year-old Salvadoran man who died during a major apartment fire in San Francisco’s Mission District in January died of smoke inhalation after a 20-minute extrication by firefighters from the burning building, according to a medical examiner’s report released today.

Mauricio Orellana died in the four-alarm fire on Jan. 28 that was reported at about 6:15 p.m. at the intersection of Mission and 22nd streets.

Rescuers found Orellana unresponsive on the third floor of the apartment building, according to the medical examiner’s report.

San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said the fire originated in a hallway on the third floor, not far from where a rescue unit found Orellana face down and unresponsive in his small unit located on that floor.

San Francisco fire investigator Stephen Engler, who was on-scene the evening of the blaze, said Orellana was “removed from a room that had smoke to the floor, lots of fire, and lots of heat,” according to the report.

For 20 minutes rescue crews worked to extricate the 263-pound Orellana from the building and caused a laceration near his left eye during the process.

Orellana was pronounced deceased outside the building at 8:07 p.m., according to the medical examiner’s report.

During an autopsy of Orellana’s body, the medical examiner’s office found signs that life-saving measures had occurred, including evidence of the use of a defibrillator.

Soot was found in Orellana’s lungs leading the cause of death to be deemed inhalation of products of combustion, according to the medical examiner’s report.

Talmadge said the first two floors of the three-story building contained businesses and offices, but that the entire top floor contained apartments.

The building and its contents sustained an estimated $8.5 million in damage, according to Talmadge.

Talmadge said investigators received reports that the residents in the building had no advanced warning from an alarm system and that some of the fire escapes were either blocked or locked.

A fire inspector who visited the building following the blaze verified that the certifications for the fire alarms and fire extinguishers were in fact still current, Talmadge said.

Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said following this and other recent fires, that the city needs to review procedures regarding building code inspections and do more to prevent fire tragedies from happening.

Proposed legislation following these fires include allowing housing inspectors to cite building owners when the annual certification for fire alarm systems is out of date, requiring apartment building owners to post signs informing residents of their right to file an anonymous complaint regarding fire safety issues and requiring building owners to file bi-annual affidavits with the Department of Building Inspection to certify that fire safety requirements are up-to-date.

Additional proposed legislation include requiring fire alarms and sprinklers be installed in older multi-unit residential buildings and providing support to property owners in the event of a fire so that tenants can return home as quickly as possible, with penalties put in place against property owners who fail to make repairs in a timely manner.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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