On the morning of July 6, the South San Francisco Fire Department unit Rescue 63 was on regular patrol when they heard on the scanner that there was a possible airplane crash at San Francisco International Airport.
The group of firefighter-paramedics and an intern took it upon themselves to respond. Their actions that day have won them heroism awards from the Fire Department.
During a recent City Council meeting, Deputy Fire Chief Travis Nuckolls presented the awards to firefighter-paramedics Devin Flannery and Giuliano Lavezzo, both of the South San Francisco Fire Department.
Also awarded was Tony Panacci, a Daly City firefighter-EMT who was on a ride-along as part of an internship he was doing to earn full paramedic certification.
On that day, when the crew first arrived at the airport, they were instructed to start the triage process. However, Panacci said that when his team learned there were still people in the plane, they donned their protective gear and entered the burning aircraft. He said that although the rear fuselage had been completely ripped open, it only got darker and darker inside, due to smoke coming from a fire in the middle of the plane.
Panacci helped Flannery and Lavezzo extract two people and bring them to the triage area. As Flannery and Lavezzo headed back into the wreckage, Panacci headed to the south end of the runway, where stunned survivors were walking aimlessly.
"I had to take charge because everybody was looking to me for guidance," Panacci said.
Although many of the survivors did not speak English, Panacci said he was able to communicate using hand signals. He had nothing but praise for the way the survivors cooperated and selflessly helped each other.
"Everyone was very compliant, and knew what to do," Panacci said. "This was a group of people who either did or didn't know each other, going above and beyond themselves to help each other."
Flannery, Lavezzo, and Panacci were collectively credited with removing seven passengers from the plane.
Panacci works for the North County Fire Authority, which provides fire protection services to Pacifica, Daly City and Brisbane. His father, Frank, is a deputy fire chief in the organization The elder Panacci said he doesn't have too much anxiety about his son doing such a dangerous job. "I encourage him to be as careful as he can be, and to follow all his training and safety protocols," said the deputy fire chief.
The younger Panacci said Flannery, Lavezzo and all the other responders deserved recognition, but he was modest about the role he played.
"I was just there to help, " Panacci said.