Firefighters delayed by wrong address in deadly Sunset District fire

Sunset District fire memorial

An impromptu memorial has been set up on the steps of a home where firefighters had to cut through a metal security gate. Photo: Paul Kozakiewicz

By Paul Kozakiewicz

When a fateful fire broke out at 1986 18th Ave. on Sept. 27, valuable minutes were lost because the person who reported the fire gave a wrong address, sending firefighters to the wrong location.

The first call came in to San Francisco Fire Department dispatch at 1:31 a.m., reporting a fire at 18th Avenue and Pacheco Street. But the first fire engine responding to the call went to the 1900 block of Pacheco Street, about five blocks away from the actual fire. The firefighters at Station 40, on 18th Avenue and Rivera Street, two blocks from the fire, went to the wrong address. A second responding engine company also went to the wrong address.

The person who initially called 911 called again at 1:38 a.m. to report that they had given a wrong address. A third engine responding to the scene was given the correct address en route and was the first to arrive at the scene of the actual fire several minutes later.

After arriving on the scene, firefighters couldn’t enter the locked house and had to use saws to cut a hole in the metal security gate at the front door. They also went behind the building to try to access the house from the back yard.

The fire claimed the lives of three residents: Raymond Tse, 33, who was sleeping in the garage when the fire broke out; Tse’s 1-year-old daughter, Chloe; and Tse’s 61-year-old father-in-law, Kin Fat Tse. Firefighters discovered the elder Tse and Chloe overcome from smoke inhalation. Tse was alive when firefighters found him, but he died at the hospital a couple of days later.

Firefighters did not put out the fire until about 2:01 a.m., a half hour after the fire was initially reported. Inside the charred home firefighters discovered the girl and her grandfather in a third-floor bathroom, apparently trying to escape before they were overcome by smoke.

Tse reportedly was sleeping in the garage because he was ill and did not want to make anyone else in his family sick.

Tse’s wife, Chloe’s mother, escaped through a back door was able to make her way onto Pacheco Street. She was treated for minor smoke inhalation.

The fire, which broke out in the garage, has been deemed “accidental,” either caused by an electrical failure or smoking materials, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge.

The homeowner’s insurance company will conduct any further research into the cause of the blaze, Talmadge said.

The fire caused about $225,000 in property damage and destroyed a large part of the house’s contents. An informal memorial has been set up in front of the house, with people dropping off flowers and other mementos of the family that lived there.

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Paul Kozakiewicz is the editor of the Sunset Beacon newspaper.

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7 Comments

  1. the 911 call is traceable as to its source yes or no? – how hard is this to verify during the actual 911 call ?

  2. I live on the same block as the fire and witnessed this horrible tragedy and all I could think of is how could lives be lost when the fire station is less then 2 blocks away on the same street we are on. I think the Fire Fighters deserve respect for doing such a hero’s job, but wonder if something could of been done better? With a alley behind the house of the fire and no gates to battle in the back of the house, why not focus on getting into the back of the house, instead of wast precious time frying to saw into a gate.

    I appreciate their efforts, but find the wrong address a lame excuse since you can almost see the fire house from the location of the fire.

    • I too live close to this house and think the firefighters did everything in their power to help. Anyone watching could see that. Also 1900 Pacheco is around Pacheco and 23rd, so if they are getting to that address they probably turned by the fire station to cross 19th, therefore never driving even close to the fire. The article says they also went around to the back yard, there were so many of them it was smart to work on the security gate and back yard. It is easy to judge when you are a spectator.

      Also, let me take this time to say I was dissapointed that some of the neighbors were taking cell phone videos and pictures. This was a horrific event, show some respect. Are we that desensitized as human beings?

      Sending prayers and good thoughts to the family of those that passed on, very sad.

      • I will agree, it was very tasteless to see people taking pictures, I had to look the other way when they took the child out. I only came out out of concern of the safety of my own house, but quickly turned my concerns and prayers to the family. very sad. Like I said, Fire Fighters are hero’s and allot of respect, but it is also good to ask, was their anything more that could of been done.

      • I like the point you raise about everyone whipping out their phones and taking pictures. It’s an interesting time we live in, where people have been trained to record every incident of note, for better or worse. I can’t say that we’ve become so desensitized as a society, though. Sometimes, this is how people cope with horrific events. A fire, especially one that claims lives, especially one that claims the life of a child that lives next door, is an extremely rare occurrence here. I don’t think there are very many of us who are truly prepared to witness such things, and some people get fixated on the source of trauma. At those times, it’s fairly natural to record the moment, to process later. I can’t speak for others, but as for myself, I was compelled to take a last photo of my grandfather after he passed away. It was the first time I had witnessed someone die, not to mention a fairly close family member, and I just…felt the need to record the moment. It had nothing to do with “heheh, look, dead body.” It was a fleeting moment that I wasn’t ready to let go of yet, I needed to capture it, to mull it over and process it. Really, I think I passingly glanced at the photo no more than once or twice afterward, but just knowing that the moment was captured, there in my camera, I felt like I had that moment in my hand, and could come to terms with it at my own time. It really helped.

        Also, we live in a society now that has been trained to record these events so as to bear witness in case anything wrong happened. If there is any question of malfeasance, now we have the footage to prove or disprove it, we can be the hero! It’s somewhat reassuring and discomforting, all at once.

        Now, what *I* have a problem with aren’t all the people taking pictures at times like these, it’s the people who feel compelled to upload them to the internet to forums like YouTube and Instagram, for the sake of attention. That, I find absolutely disgusting and simply can’t abide.

    • It doesn’t sound like “wrong address” was an excuse. The fire fighters can only go by the information given to them, and according to the article, they were given the wrong address. A second phonecall apparently came in to inform them of the mistake, presumably the person calling realized what they did wrong and made the second call to correct it. The article also states that some approached the house from the rear, as well. In this situation, they are always going to try to approach the fire from as many angles as possible, so they would still have to cut through the front gate to approach the house from the front side, while approaching from the rear as well. Without knowing the finer details, it sounds like the firemen did everything they were supposed to do.

      Though, I still agree with the ultimate point you made, it is always good to ask if things could have been done better. Even when things go well, we should always ask if things could have been done better.

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