There have been good days and bad days the past three months at the San Francisco Fire Department’s Station 26 — the peaceful former hilltop post of firefighters Vincent Perez and Anthony Valerio.
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The pair died while battling a Diamond Heights house fire in June, and since then The City they served has come out to honor them in big ways. There was the funeral at St. Mary’s Cathedral, attended by thousands, and a ceremony Thursday to unveil their names etched on the stone wall at the department headquarters at Second and Townsend streets.
But it might be the little gestures that have helped most for the grieving co-workers they left behind at Station 26, where firefighters said they are grateful for the love and support that followed what was otherwise a complete tragedy.
“Whether it was bringing cookies or just coming by to tell some story that we didn’t know, the community has been great,” said firefighter Tami Turner, who was friends with both Perez and Valerio. “For eight weeks, they cooked for us, every Tuesday and Thursday — dinner and dessert.”
Although their lockers have been reassigned to replacements, there are reminders of both men everywhere in the station, which can sometimes operate more like a household than a workplace. In the small backyard, a garden is being built for Valerio, the so-called “people’s firefighter” whose many hobbies included gardening and raising chickens. He also liked to talk — a lot.
“As long as he was awake, he was talking,” Turner said. “If he wasn’t talking, that’s how you knew he was asleep.”
Firefighter and 12-year friend Travis Rail said Perez, a lieutenant, was more reserved — quiet by nature, but bold in his service.
“He was a great leader, a solid firefighter,” Rail said, holding back tears. “When we heard, we just couldn’t believe it was him. We still can’t believe it.”
Perez, still called by his childhood nickname of “Creature,” also was known to roam the station late at night in search of food. But then the creature that roamed Station 26 was suddenly gone.
“You could feel the sadness in the air,” Rail said. “It was like if you walked into where there was a shooting in a school or something.”
At the ceremony Thursday, fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told family members she knows there’s no replacement for their lost loved ones, but The City will always be there for them.
Mayor Ed Lee said the names etched on the wall are only a small token, but nevertheless the grand mark of a grateful city. Every firefighter who has died in the line of duty since 1851 has their name on the wall.
“We know you put your lives on the line,” Lee told firefighters in attendance. “When the duty came, they went in without hesitation.”
Lt. Vincent Perez
Service: Lieutenant at Engine Company 26; former Alameda County jailer; planned to retire soon
Home: Born and raised in Mission; attended Riordan High School
Personal: The unmarried firefighter was his mother’s primary caretaker. Two of his brothers are police officers.
Service: Firefighter-paramedic at Engine Company 26
Home: Attended El Camino High School in South San Francisco
Personal: An avid surfer and kayaker; his ex-wife also works as a San Francisco firefighter
“When the duty came, they went without hesitation.” — Mayor Ed Lee
“We’re still receiving cards from New York, Ireland, London — around the world. The story of your two sons, your brothers, is still being told.” — Capt. Tom O’Connor, firefighters union president
“It’s more than working a job. You become closer, like family members.” — Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White