Memorial planned for fallen firefighters Friday


June 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Coit Tower will be illuminated in red this week in honor of fallen San Francisco firefighters Vincent Perez and Anthony Valerio, who both died tragically in the line of duty last week. Plans are under way at St. Mary's Cathedral to honor the fallen heroes this Friday.

At Station 26 in San Francisco on Monday, the reminders of loss were everywhere. The irony, that the best people to help them deal with it would have been Perez and especially, Valerio.

"No matter what was going wrong or how sad you were, he was going to make you smile," said Lt. Ken Smith.

No one will be smiling this Friday when the city holds a double memorial for Perez and Valerio at St. Mary's Cathedral. If the sites of fellow firemen saluting the bodies as they left the hospital stirred you, imagine 2,500 people from across the nation, in one room, doing the same.

"The families just want their sons to be remembered both as the men they were and the heroes that they died as," said union president Tom O'Connor who is part of the team working on the massive logistics.

The men died in a house fire last Thursday. Investigators continued picking through the rubble for clues Monday. They now say that the cause of the fire does not appear to be suspicious, which made life a little easier for Juanita Green who owns the place. She did not want to talk Monday.

In the meantime, the union did provide one clue about what made the fire so difficult -- a combination of terrain, wind and house architecture from the front stairs down.

"You're walking down the chimney. You're coming in on top of the fire," explained O'Connor. "So the fire started in the bottom of the house and you're coming down on top of it."

Not just anyone would walk willfully into such dangerous conditions. Firefighters do. They're born to it. Sometimes, they pay the price.

"I think the hardest thing to deal with is that it could have been any one of us," said Smith. "It could have been me."

Tuesday's Giants game at AT&T Park will be dedicated to the memory of the firefighters. Mayor Ed Lee will throw out the first pitch in their honor.

The funeral takes place on Friday at 12:30 p.m. at St. Mary's. The department is expecting firefighters from across the country to be there.

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