A San Francisco firefighter who died in the line of duty was knocked off a fire escape when water shot out of a valve he accidentally opened during a drill, according to a report the Fire Department released Sunday.
The report cited new coronavirus safety protocols as a possible factor in the death of Jason Cortez, 42. With social-distancing rules in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the engine company and small crew had to conduct the pump drill alone, with each fighter performing tasks in isolation instead of with a team, the report said.
Cortez, a firefighter and paramedic, was participating in a training at 10 a.m. Wednesday when the incident occurred. He was working on a third-floor fire escape of the Division of Training on Folsom Street when he opened the valve, which did not have a hose attached. A blast of water hit Cortez in the chest, causing him to topple backward over the fire escape.
He was treated on the scene for critical injuries and transported to San Francisco General Hospital. He died that day.
“In response to COVID restrictions, extreme caution must be exercised when conducting drills individually that normally require multiple companies,” the report concluded. It also called for review of safety procedures related to water pipes.
The Fire Department drove Cortez’s body to the medical examiner Wednesday afternoon, with a procession of uniformed firefighters and engines paying tribute. Department spokesman Jonathan Baxter described Cortez as “extremely outgoing” and always eager to help.
Cortez joined the department in 2007, working as a paramedic at Station 49 in the Bayview. He was carrying on a family tradition — his father had been a San Francisco firefighter.
After several years in the medic unit Cortez graduated from the department’s academy and began working as a firefighter-paramedic at Station 3 in the Tenderloin.
The Fire Department will re-evaluate its findings after Cal-OSHA and the San Francisco Police Department complete their own investigations into Cortez’s death, Baxter said. At that point, they will also reassess the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what safety rules are necessary to curb the spread.