When San Francisco Parking Control Officer Lawrence Manu pulled a Fourth of July graveyard shift, he tried to find a co-worker to switch with him. Today, it seems like fate that the plan didn’t work out.
About 5:30 that morning, Manu was patrolling Mission Street in the Excelsior district when he noticed a puff of white smoke rising from a small apartment building.
“When I got there, it went from hazy gray to dark black real fast,” Manu said.
He radioed his dispatcher, who called the Fire Department. But as smoke poured out of the building, Manu realized he had no time to waste.
Thanks to Manu, more than 20 people escaped the three-alarm fire.
And for his quick thinking, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency recognized Manu last week with a certificate of appreciation.
Manu served in the Navy during the Gulf War and said that experience prepared him to act calmly in a crisis.
“All the training that I had in the military, it was still embedded in my mind,” he said.
Residents didn’t come downstairs right away after he started ringing doorbells, so Manu got back into his vehicle and circled in front of the building while honking his horn and blowing his whistle. When a few people appeared at a nearby bus stop, Manu summoned them to help ring doorbells.
Finally, a family emerged, still in their nightclothes. Neighbors whose homes also were threatened by the fire came outside as well.
When the Fire Department arrived, Manu left the scene to continue his shift. But it was hard for him to concentrate.
“The rest of my shift, I kept on contacting my dispatcher to ask if she’d heard anything,” Manu said.
He said it was a relief when he finally learned that everyone, including a woman who had been trapped inside, was safe.
“I can’t find the right words to describe how I feel,” Manu said.
Parking control officers are sometimes blamed when drivers face steep fines or find their cars towed, but Manu said he hopes people who read about him might be more kind toward his profession in the future.
“Hopefully they’ll think differently when they see me coming around the corner,” he said.
Details from the Fire Department:
- Fire broke out at 4020 Mission St. early July 4
- Three buildings damaged, leaving 28 residents displaced
- One woman injured
- Two dogs placed with Animal Care and Control
- Total estimated damage is $1.4 million
- Cause under investigation